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Michel, his wife Claire and their three little daughters Jeanne, Sarah and Iris are traveling to their cottage in Switzerland to spend summer vacation. When they stop the car, Michel goes to the toilet and a man stares at him. Soon the man introduces himself as Harold "Harry" Balestoro, who studied with Michel in high school and knows him very well. When Michel and his family go to their car, Harry parks his Mercedes Benz and introduces his fiancée Plum to the couple and invites themselves to travel to Michel's house for a drink. Later her recalls by heart a poem written by Michel and shows that he was obsessed for Michel. Harry is surprised that Michel does not write anymore and tells that he is wealthy since he has inherited his father's investments. Michel and Claire are middle-class and are still repairing their cottage by themselves. Harry and Plum stay for the night in the guest room and in the morning, Harry gives a 4x4 V6 Pajero to his new friends. They do not accept but ... Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
'Harry' is a portrait of a marriage. Reviewers have pointed out the film's debt to Hitchcock - why do people always call films which 'borrow' the superficials (plot, music, characters, set-pieces etc.) Hitchcockian, when his true inheritors are directors like Godard and Marker? - but his oeuvre only contains two notable films about marriage, 'The Man who knew too much' and 'The Wrong Man'. These films show marriage cracking under the strain of some exterior threat.
'Harry' begins with a marriage already at crisis point - symbolically confined in an old car without air conditioning, driving towards a delapidated country house, young children bawling, mother unable to do anything, father getting increasingly frustrated, all seat-belted for greater entrapment. I remember it well. Laurent Lucas is the new Francois Cluzot, the grim, unhappy, modern man conspired against by circumstances that are not melodramatic, but everyday; financial, parents, frustrated ambitions etc.
If this is Hitchcock, it is a French version as mediated by Chabrol - there is the same contrast between the artificiality of the plot and the natural surroundings that stage it. This opening of a car, a family, classical music, the drive to a summer retreat, the intrusions of two strangers, remind me of another recent European thriller, Haneke's 'Funny Games'.
The film borrows from a lot of Hitchcockian sources - 'The Man who knew too much', 'Vertigo', 'Psycho', 'The Trouble with Harry' (in reverse), especially 'Strangers on a train' - Harry's character is sometimes more Highsmith than Hitchcock, a mixture of Tom Ripley and Dickie (here it is the rich man who wants to belong with the less well-off).
The meeting of Michel and Harry is signalled with HItchcockian criss-cross; ominously, in a public lavatory. There is a sense of magic or fairy tale here, as the two characters and their reflections reunite and fragment at the same time, suggesting a transformation scene, a switching of personalities and identities. It is at the moment when Michel feels most exasperation (and the need for gender security, in the male toilets) that Harry turns up, suggesting that he is Michel's double, an expression of his unconscious desires, somebody who will do what he wouldn't dare. This is the 'transference of guilt' narrative beloved of Hitchcock, one which found its purest expression in 'STrangers'.
There are some reasons why this contrivance does not carry the same weight here. Firstly, both characters are unpleasant and unlikely to win much audience support - 'STrangers' is so disturbing because the good guy is so cold, ruthless and unsympathetic, while the baddie seems vulnerable, and his motives are comprehensible. There are occasional attempts to suggest Harry's demons, as he screams in silence like a Francis Bacon painting. Michel, while never likable, is not calculating enough to provide an effective contrast. This blunts the transference of guilt - it is his wife, Claire, who resents his parents, who wishes for a bigger car etc. She also bears the film's misogyny, perhaps Hitchcockian, as she shows no sympathy towards her husband's creative endeavours (an attempt to regain childhood?), but as this only surfaces in the last ten minutes, it denies the plot frisson.
In the half-century since 'STrangers', Moll is still coy about homosexuality; although he never shows the much-alluded to heterosexual act, and engineers a number of encounters where a near-naked Harry and Michel discuss sexual prowess (to the point where Harry's eggs of virility become agent of Michel's creative fertility), there is no real sexual charge between them, making Harry look like a pervert trying to destroy the family, rather than showing a family stifling such urges in Michel. Hitchcock is more sympathetic to his lonely gays. He is also superior at creating narrative and suspense - Moll never makes his contrivances seem inevitable or plausible as his Master does, and after half an hour his film is slow-burning without becoming tense or exciting. The hallucinations and heavy ironies of the final quarter don't help.
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