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François is a middle-aged antique dealer. He has a stylish apartment and a fabulous life, but at a dinner with a group he considers his dearest acquaintances, he is blindsided by the revelation that none of them actually likes him. He's arrogant, self-centered and harsh, and they don't believe he knows the meaning of friendship. His business partner Catherine makes him a bet: if he can produce his best friend, she will let him keep the massive Greek vase he acquired that afternoon on the company tab. If not, it's hers. Having accepted the wager, François naively tears through his address book, trying to shoehorn an increasingly unlikely series of contacts into the all-important role. Moving through Paris, he keeps encountering a trivia-spouting, big-hearted cabbie named Bruno. Bruno's chatty, lowbrow ways grate against François's designer temperament, but he covets the other man's easy way with people. He convinces Bruno to teach him how to make friends and sets about learning the "...Written by
Catherine (Julie Gayet) and François (Daniel Auteuil) are partners in a Paris antique business. He has just paid so much at auction for a large Greek vase--itself a symbol of a friend's loyalty--that he's put the firm at risk. Catherine, who accuses François of having no friends, makes him accept a bet. Within ten days he must either come up with a "best friend" or forfeit the vase. François's self esteem now being as much at risk as the firm's finances, he bends to the task.
In the course of telling its story this film glances at some searching questions about friendship. What IS a friend? How many TRUE friends does anyone have? But as a comedycertainly a very dry oneit ends by being neither revelatory nor funny. Sometimes it doesn't even feel like a comedy, and director Patrice Lecante and his writers may not have quite made up their minds what they were doing in the first place.
Certainly the raw material of comedy is here. All François' bustling efforts to dredge up any real chums, let alone a "best friend," are ludicrous failures. He has a daughter, Louise (Julie Durand), and business associates: no friends there. A high school classmate he thinks was a pal despises him. Everyone says he's an odious fellow, a "con"an asshole. Along the way François meets a companionable and chatty taxi driver named Bruno (Dany Boon) who takes him around, keeps him company, and gives him tips. Bruno comes up with a "three-S" rule for "friend"-making: be Sociable, Smiling and Sincere. The trouble is that for all his chattinesshe's a wannabe quiz show contestant who compulsively feeds factoids to his faresBruno is a misfit with no friends himself. His sociability and smile don't mean he knows how to relate to people: the trivia recitations get in the way of that. As for François, he's clearly a person too wrapped up in himself ever to have connected with others. He goes to a lecture by the author of a self-help book on friendship, but the homely myopic man who befriends him afterward, he quickly abandons.
It's no great secret that this will develop into an offbeat buddy picture featuring François and Bruno. Somehow they will betray, abandon, and find each other again. If a friend is somebody you can call on in your most need, they've turned out to be true pals. Or have they? This, like various other key points, is an issue that's flirted with only to be left hanging.
Director Patrice Leconte, who made 'Monsieur Hire,' 'The Man on the Train,' and by now three films starring Auteuil including 'The Widow of Saint Pierre,' is doing something less ambitious herebut there are haunting, dark elements. We are all aloneas Mrs. Mulwray says in 'Chinatown,' "Isn't everybody?"and Bruno says so too. Auteuil, who played the angst-ridden TV intellectual in Michael Haneke's 'Caché' recently, and once played the frozen soul of Claude Sautet's 'Un Coeur en hiver,' steps easily into the role of an urbane individual whom nobody likes. But though Auteuil is convincing, he isn't really droll. And the film is full of gaps and puzzles. If François is so odious, why is a good-looking woman wanting to spend her nights with him, and why are all those colleagues so willing to dine with him? Where are THEIR friends? A late sequence in which Bruno finally gets his wish and appears on a French version of "So You Want to Be a Millionaire?" provides a welcome change of scene and mood; but it's also painfully drawn out, and its payoff is obvious.
The principals are good and the package is glossy and attractive. But Leconte has failed to achieve effective comedy or resolved his subject satisfactorily. At the end, when we see his associates and partner celebrating François' birthday a year later, are we to believe he's now well-liked? Excuse me, but what happened? Hasn't the film failed to show the main action it was looking for, François' transformation? Doubtless these questions are not supposed to occur to us; but 'Mon Meilleur ami' is the victim of its own Parisian cleverness. It's too cool and elegant ever to fall into sentimentality. But it provides no credible examples of friendship or of persons who're whole and deeply connected. Catherine has a lesbian girlfriend in her bed at home, but there's no information about this relationship. Bruno's parents are nice little nonentities. Most other characters are mere walk-ons. The well-oiled hinges of this film's scenery move too smoothly and efficiently to allow for ordinariness, specificity, or warmth. Bruno's cheer is obviously fragile. He suffers from a lost relationship, as does François. Though it makes you think, in the end this film like its protagonist seems more manipulative than humane. "I no longer want to do overly serious movies," Leconte has said. He's achieved that goal. But unfortunately what he's made instead is one that's merely empty and a little sad.
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