Wild About HARRY
Winning my vote for the Best Foreign Language Film of 2001, With a Friend Like Harry stunned me with its realism, intensity, and surprises. I was hooked completely -- from the cruel opening scene, which shows a family suffering in a car with no air conditioning, to the ending shot depicting drastically changed circumstances. In between, the film belongs to Sergi Lopez, a spellbinding actor who plays a man with deadly plans about how to help the father of this family.
"I wanted the film to be driven by tension and suspense," writer/director Dominik Moll says. "I wanted to draw the audience in and make them enjoy the game, even when it becomes scary." Moll, an admirer of Alfred Hitchcock, succeeds in keeping the tension building slowly but surely throughout his splendid film – similar to Hitchcock’s accomplishments in classic thrillers like Vertigo and Rear Window.
Recalling how frustrating it can be to travel in a hot car for long distances with squirmy young children, I immediately identified with the parents in the opening sequence. When Michel (Laurent Lucas), the father, meets an old classmate at a pit stop, he doesn’t realize how much his life will change. In one memorable scene, Harry (Lopez) smiles fondly at Michel, but Michel can’t remember him. No matter. Harry sees how uncomfortable Michel’s family is in the heat and offers to drive them to their summer home in his sleek, air-conditioned car.
And thus begins a relationship between two men with very different values. Michel always compromises, avoiding conflict with his wife, his own parents, and anyone else. In contrast, Harry takes more drastic actions to solve problems. When he sees all the petty hassles Michel faces, he decides to help him. And he wins his friend over by reciting a poem Michel wrote during their school days. (That would probably do it for me, too.)
Despite warnings from his wife (Mathilda Seigner), who feels uncomfortable around Harry right away, Michel becomes friends with him. He even starts writing again. Meanwhile, the actions Harry engages in to save Michel grow more outrageous and deadly. As the old saying goes, with a friend like Harry, Michel needs no enemies.
I think most viewers will find With a Friend Like Harry as fascinating as I did. Much like David Lynch’s bizarre Blue Velvet, this film explores menacing elements underneath the surface of relationships and every-day life. I found the character of Harry especially intriguing. Appearing happy, carefree, generous, and good-natured on the outside, he’s someone quite frightening in reality. Lopez (in his first role as a villain), with his smiling face and penetrating eyes, inhabits this character completely.
Although there’s talk of a Hollywood re-make, I can’t imagine another version being any better than this French original. And don’t worry about the English subtitles added to With a Friend Like Harry. They are well-done and unobtrusive.
(Released by Miramax Zoe and rated "R" for violence, sensuality, and language.)