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On a hot day in a highway gas station men's room, a man Michel doesn't recognize says they went to school together. He's Harry. He suggests they have a drink, so he and his girlfriend follow Michel and his family to their summer place. Michel is amazed when Harry quotes from memory a poem Michel wrote in school. Harry thinks Michel is a great writer, and he's distressed that Michel hasn't written in years. Harry stays awhile (since his father's death, he's a man of leisure) and sets out to eliminate distractions that might keep Michel from writing. First he buys Michel a car (with air conditioning) and then suspicious things happen. Michel picks up a pen, Harry is gratified, but he's not finished being Michel's self-appointed patron. Written by
Doctor Jekyll and mister Hyde in the French country...
One of the first moments of this movie makes inevitably think of "Shining" (1980) by Stanley Kubrick and "Funny Games" (1997) by Michael Haneke: an aerial shot which follows a car on the highway. Inside it, a typical French family who goes on holiday in their country house hoping to find some peace. It's particularly true for the parents, Michel and his wife who seem to be all keyed up because of their restless children. On a rest area, Michel meets an old school friend: Harry who proposes Michel to come and spend a couple of days to his country house. The latter accepts. From the beginning, Harry appears as a charismatic and mysterious character. Who is he? Where does he come from? What does he want? We learn very few things about him or just vague facts. The director Dominik Voll preferred to leave high and dry Harry's origins and it's better this way because the spectator can imagine whatever he wants about him. Be that as it may, we can bring a beginning of answer to the third quoted question: Harry wishes Michel well and he's ready to do anything for this, even to kill...
After a six-year absence (his last movie was "intimacy" in 1994), Dominik Voll made a successful comeback with "With a Friend like Harry" (2000). He seduced both the critics and the public and won 4 French Oscars in 2001 including Best Actor for Sergi Lopez. It's funny to note down that the basic idea for his second feature-length film came to him from a holiday memory when, just like Michel he met an old school friend which he hadn't seen for years. This trivial detail inspired him to focus his movie on the theme of the double. Besides, the first apparition of the two main protagonists happens in front of a mirror. Harry can be considered as the incarnation of Michel's repressed drives and buried desires. In a way, he's what Michel would like to be or to do (consciously or not). I think there are numerous examples in Voll's opus and I will retain the three following points: Harry enjoys a perfect sexual life (eating a raw egg after an orgasm is good for health!) and perhaps Michel would like to know something similar to this. Then, Harry kills Michel's parents and every time the latter invites them for lunch or dinner, he has to fetch them: his father can't drive for medical reasons. Perhaps, Michel has hidden death wishes about his parents. At last, by congratulating Michel about the writings he made in high school, Harry probably wakes in Michel hidden desires of writer. Roughly, Harry wants to help his friend to advance in life, no matter what the price is.
"With a friend like Harry" is Voll's second film in six years but his making is absolutely awesome. If the beginning of the movie turns out to be a little trite:how many times in cinema have we seen the trick of the helpful character invading a so far peaceful universe? But fortunately, once this moment passed, the rest makes forget this weakness. The movie adopts a slow rhythm without hastes and opts for the unexpected to play with the spectator's nerves. Dominik Voll weaves a more and more heavy even stifling atmosphere marked out by Michel's psychological changing who seems to become a little unrecognizable to his wife. Besides, she tells to Harry: "you've got a bad influence on Michel". This heavy atmosphere is reinforced by a precise and rigorous making which favors close-up shots and the length of quite numerous sequences. Overrall the director achieved a tour de force by mixing several cinema genres in a coherent story. What is close to comedy in the beginning of the story ends up turning to drama and thriller and the abrupt changes of tone follow on from each other with a diabolical logic. Moreover, Voll knows how to use black humor and certain moments give sometimes to the work an eccentric side.
Needless to say that the cast is largely equal to the story. Already remarked in the invigorating "Western" (1997) by Manuel Poirier (whose he is one of his favorite actors), Sergi Lopez finds the role of his life in Harry. It will certainly be hard for him to equal his performance in the future.
Highly recommended, "With a Friend like Harry" is a work that can be understood on several levels. It's a fascinating work and however we come out of the projection with a little uneasiness because of Michel's disturbing face. Harry's influence has altered him and he looks threatening as if he was going to commit something bad. As for Harry, in the domain of the pain in the neck characters, he is, in the long run, not exactly like Seraphin Lampion in "the adventures of Tintin"!
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