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When I rented this movie I thought I was in for a black comedy, but when
Harry approached Michele, his old school mate, there was something ever so
slightly creepy about him. Nothing you could your finger on, it just felt
not quite right... From that point onwards Harry was always there,
remembering word for word a poem that Michele had written while at school,
remembering Michele's story written years before. Harry was so nice, so
attentive and yet so odd... Was Harry in love with Michele?
Your instinct tells you something's not right but you keep watching, hoping that you can figure Harry out, giving him the benefit of the doubt, while all the while your gut instinct is that this guy is trouble, he's a manipulator, he's calling the shots, and yet you push those thoughts aside as he's so charming.
This film held my attention, I was hooked right from the start. It's classy, understated, with a wealth of detail in the merest glance. With a subtlety that you rarely see in US or UK movies. If you like lots of action, you probably won't like this movie, it moves inexorably onwards to what you sense is going to end in tears.
A very good movie, not to everyone's taste, but if you like subtlety, classy acting, and an insight into how a psychopath can insinuate himself into your life, this movie's for you.
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 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"!
There is something alarming and off-kilter about Harry from the moment we meet him; his casual way of speaking about orgasms and forgotten childhood poems to (essentially) complete strangers just a few hours after their first meeting only intensifies our suspicions. Sergi Lopez gives a brilliantly unnerving yet subtle performance as Harry, and he's the best reason to see the film. But not the only one. The director is able to present characters, situations and family tensions that are thoroughly believable, thereby drawing us deeply into the story. The acting is first-rate, the camerawork excellent; what the film needed to help it move into the realm of "great" was a little more snap. (***)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The opening scene to this film is what immediately pulled me into the
story, characters, and emotions. The consistent nagging of our main
character's children pulled not only at Michel's mind, but also deeply
into ours. This sets the stage, while already having your emotions and
sense heightened, for the meeting of Harry, Michel's counterpoint in
the film. A classic combination of American Psycho and Swimming Pool,
our two characters and everything surrounding them pull us in every
direction. From confusion, to suspicion, to fear, and even disbelief,
we watch as a simple friend, and unknown acquaintance becomes so deeply
rooted in this struggling family. Director Dominik Moll has done his
homework in this genre and successfully creates a film that not only
tantalizes, but also settles in deep inside you releasing snippets of
fear throughout the story. His camera angles, structure, and deeply
rooted character development make this little, almost unknown, thriller
a step above the others out there.
As I said before, Dominik Moll does a great job directing. It is obvious from the opening credits until the chilling ending that he is very comfortable with the genre and the material. There are some amazing scenes that boldly stick out in my mind, and that is a great sign that the director has gone well beyond his duties to create a powerful film. Outside of the direction, which does stand on its own, we also have some of the best casting around. Sergi Lopez literally steals every scene in this film. His charisma, quiet demeanor, and sinister eyes keep our eyes focused directly on him at all time. Moll gives us nothing about Lopez's Harry, which makes him even more watchable. He is curious and slippery all at the same time. We are never quite handed the reason for Harry's persistence with Michel's writing or the back-story on how these two met (the circumstances that apparently effected Harry's life), and it works in this film. I am notorious for needing more stories to accentuate the characters, but in Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien, none is needed. The suspense is built by not knowing and it really sends a chill up your spine.
Talking a bit more about the characters, I loved the way that Plum was handled. Who was she? Why did she always seem to know what Harry was doing? To me, that was some of the more frightening elements of this film. Plum had a secret, and I really wanted to know what it was. You can never trust Harry, which makes me wonder what was the truth and what were lies that he spoke about. Strangely, the way that I saw it, Harry never lied. Outside of the dirty deeds that he sometimes did, he was a pretty honest guy and I think that was his way of winning over Michel's support. On a side note, could you not see this film being remade using Robin Williams as the role of Harry. After seeing him in One Hour Photo and Insomnia, I could see him pulling off a role similar to this (also, Lopez sometimes looked exactly like Williams). Oh well, it was just a thought.
What kept this film going was the simplicity of the story. It was obvious that Moll used the ever-popular direction known as "K.I.S.S." (Keep It Simple Stupid) to keep his audience focused on the characters that were in front of them. This was a character-based film that, like an onion, had layers upon layers of emotions. There were no elaborate sets, no twists and turns, no sudden jumping that would detract us from the story, it was a simple story with amazing characters, nothing more nothing less. For this film, it worked.
Finally, I would like to take you on a thought journey if you wouldn't mind. Think about this for a moment as you finish reading this review. I thought of this after watching the film and as I typed this review. What if there was no Harry? What if Harry was just a figure of a broken man's imagination? From the opening scene we see the tension that Michel is feeling about his life and family, why is it impossible to think that perhaps he created Harry out of thin air to help him through the rough times. We all think of times in our lives that we wished we could go back to, perhaps Michel's time was when he was writing. Writing seemed to ultimately make him happy, so why not dream of a way of getting back there. When it got to scary for Michel (breakdown was pushing him away from those that he loved), is when he had to deal with Harry. I know there are logistical issues with this thought process, for example conversations and so forth, but it was a thought I had as this film seemed to wrap up. Maybe others feel the same, perhaps I am crazy, who knows only I will know when I approach you as a lost friend next time you are at a rest area.
Overall, very impressive work by everyone involved. I thought that the story was tight, the characters were immensely disturbing and exciting at the same time, and the images decorated the film very well. I would suggest it to anyone that loved Swimming Pool, the structure is very similar except one is sex and the other is writing. They do go together don't they?
Grade: **** out of *****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm surprised there aren't more comments about this film, because it is a
truly excellent piece of entertainment in the cinema of menace genre.
Ordinary guy Michel (Laurent Lucas), hot and bothered while taking his
family on a summer vacation, meets up with Harry, a former schoolfriend
(Sergi Lopez), who he doesn't remember, and who seems to be both rich and
very solicitous of his welfare. When the family car breaks down, Harry buys
them a new four-wheel drive (it seems that even the French have not escaped
the sports utility craze). Clearly, there is something not healthy about
Harry's interest but it takes a while for the real story to emerge, and
there are some carefully observed and funny moments on the
It has been pointed out, and there are certainly signs, that Harry can be seen as the embodiment of some of Michel's darker feelings, particularly the feeling that the everyday demands of family life and work have prevented him from developing his talent as a writer. Michel also has a certain amount of resentment towards his parents, but the character of Harry grossly overreacts to Michel's `enemies' and in the end, of course it is Harry, the psychotic in all of us, who has to go.
The immediacy of the camera work puts us right in the picture, heightening the tension. There are a couple of scenes inside cars being driven on narrow mountain roads at night as scary as anything Hitchcock (obviously an influence on first-time director Dominik Moll) attempted, and the nearly 2 hours of running time passes very quickly. Great entertainment.
The thing I appreciated most about this movie was the still moments, so
unlike the average bombastic Hollywood product that never has a
stop-and-listen moment, a stop-and-consider moment or a stop-and-feel
moment. (Ever notice in American movies of the last ten years, even when the
characters are stopping to think --rare as THAT is-- there is a veritable
tempest of Wagnerian bluster on the sound track. Mainstream movies have
gotten to where they never, NEVER shut up and let up, even for a moment; you
must be manipulated every second you are in the theater. I walk out of
"intense" movies, not exhausted, but rather, quite vexed by the hammy,
heavy-handed obviousness of it all. --And a little deafened, usually,
There was nothing obvious in this film. At the end, you feel closure, and yet you are free to wonder at exactly what Harry's behavior meant and about the origins of his unique world-view. That is a thing to treasure, a movie that knows enough what it is about to offer closure, yet leave your mind free to wander over the relationships and lives of the people you have just watched briefly from a distance, and reflect on possible meanings.
A wonderful film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I won't give a lengthy analysis here, just a few reactions to a couple of
other messages posted here, and then a brief discussion and a note about
some interesting irony I noticed in this film. *** WARNING: SPOILERS
First, I disagree with the theories about most of the plot being a fantasy in the protagonist's mind. I think the film works very well as a straightforward thriller (in somewhat the same vein as Strangers on a Train, though not exactly). Besides, there is just too much behavioral/conversational interaction among the various characters for the events in the film to be just a fantasy. What makes more sense to me (as someone who is trained in psychology), is that Harry really is mentally disturbed, and has had a long-term infatuation with Michel and his writing. But he also harbors resentment toward Michel (for knocking out his tooth and for being favored over Harry by his former girlfriend) as well as toward Michel's dentist father (for installing a bridge that later "turned color" and had to be replaced).
The irony I noticed in this film involves the fact that Harry actually kind of turned out to be right in a weird sort of way: the deaths of Michel's parents actually did seem to free Michel ("I feel my wings spreading"). (Interestingly, their cremations also had a similar effect on his brother Eric, as Eric mentioned to Harry just before Harry murdered him in the car.) But once Michel realized that all these various deaths/disappearances were probably due to Harry, then he had to draw the line and stop Harry before Harry could kill the rest of Michel's family.
The irony continues to manifest itself as Michel begins to like the SUV that he had previously thought was monstrous. So, in a way, Harry did "free" Michel and give him new perspectives on things, and also gave him inspiration to start writing again. He even gave him the idea for his next story, "The Eggs." Truly ironic.
With a Friend Like Harry is a jewel of its kind, Hitchcock would love it. Consider that most of it takes place either indoors or outdoors at night or on menacing serpentine roads. Very claustrophobic effects, just like the master himself. And it is devoid of the usual clichÃ©d homages & in-jokes that prevail in the usual Hitchcock wannabe film. It builds smoothly & menacingly, with perfect tempo, the characters are believable to the point of banality - again, just like the master's very best films. But over & above the expert elements of suspense & character & humor that pervade this movie, I would like to add that it is a delicious contemporary reading of the universal Faust legend & to me that is it's ultimate brilliance.
'Harry, He Is Here To Help' is a pretty awful title for a very entertaining French thriller. I can't claim it is the greatest thriller I've ever seen, or that it will change your life, but it's well written with interesting characters, isn't as obvious and predictable as most Hollywood movies in this vein, and it has a satisfying conclusion. As modern thrillers go, it's a very enjoyable one and should please most fans of the genre. The strength of the movie is in the performances of the two main male leads, Larent Lucas who plays Michel and Sergi Lopez who plays Harry. I can imagine if this was remade in Hollywood and they were played by (insert likely actors here) just how obvious and stereotypical their characters would be. Michel bumps into Harry while traveling with his wife Claire (Mathilde Seigner) and three young daughters. Harry is an old school chum that Michel has long forgotten, but it quickly becomes obvious that Harry remembers Michel, quoting from memory a poem he wrote in High School that Michel can hardly even recall writing. Harry charms Michel and pretty soon Harry and his beautiful girlfriend Plum (Sophie Guillemin) are invited along to Michel and Claire's modest holiday house. Harry is quirky but charming and reveals that he is independently wealthy. His reminisces about Michel's youthful writing stirs up something long forgotten in Michel, and this, along with Harry's insistence on helping financially, creates tension between Michel and his wife. However things aren't as straightforward as that. Harry has other ideas in mind... I won't spoil what happens as the story progresses, that would ruin the fun. An enjoyable thriller, nothing more, nothing less. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie was disappointing on all fronts.
The character development was almost non-existent. I couldn't even tell if Michael cared if his parents died or not. In the end, I wouldn't have been surprised if he had let Harry kill his family - I saw almost no reaction either way. I certainly saw no reaction to his having killed Harry. And Harry! There was ZERO insight into what was motivating him - other than eggs - and what the hell was that all about??? No explanation to ANYTHING that motivated these characters.
The supposed climax of the movie was a thorough let down. I don't usually try to attemt to guess how a movie will unravel, but this one was completley transparent & poorly executed at that. There was no suspenseful build up at all. I didn't even believe it was over because it seemed so bland.
The only way this movie could become passably interesting is to accept the completely unsupportable premise of one of the the other posts in IMDB's: that Harry IS Michael. Maybe my 2 hours and $8 wouldn't have been wasted.
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