My Best Friend

mybestfriend.jpg
IFC Films
Patrice Leconte/France 2006

In this charming, light-hearted examination of friendship and its meaning, events unfold within familiar territory – the sophisticated but stuffy milieu of the acquisitive French bourgeoisie. Before a disappointing descent into the brash game-show nonsense of the final scenes, there are pleasures to savor along the way, including elegant interiors, the playing of the lead actors and a wryly ironic screenplay.

Patrice Leconte’s mature thriller, Monsieur Hire (1989) brought the director international acclaim and was followed by The Hairdresser’s Husband (1990) of similarly sombre tone. With My Best Friend Leconte returns to the comedy genre he favored earlier in his career.

When antiques collector and gallery owner, François Coste (Daniel Auteuil) attends the funeral of a fellow dealer, it’s to seek the widow’s permission to claim a table the dead man promised him. François notices there are few mourners, a fact he mentions subsequently at a dinner party, attended by his business associates whom he also counts as friends but who regard themselves as mere acquaintances. He is unpleasantly surprised when one of them predicts an even sparser attendance at François’ own funeral. François’ indignant denial that he has devoted himself to collecting things at the expense of close relationships leads him to bet that he can produce a friend by the end of the month – 10 days away. The stake is a recently acquired and much cherished Etruscan vase.

Auteuil’s lived-in features and air of slight perplexity give a sympathetic edge to the introverted businessman for whom things are more meaningful than the people around him. These include his taken-for-granted mistress (Elizabeth Bourgine), his daughter from a former marriage, Louise (Julie Durand), and beautiful gallery co-owner Catherine (Julie Gayet) whom Francois keeps emotionally at arms’ length. Lesbian, she is without predatory motive, but Francois has so far ignored her offers of friendship. There is much to please the eye as we move from the auction room where the appropriately named Coste bids high for the vase which Catherine doubts the business can afford, to Francois’ apartment, crowded with the artifacts closest to his heart. Ironically, the vase, which after its delivery holds pride of place, is decorated with images of Achilles and Patroclus, iconic figures of friendship in Greek legend.

Outside the narrow world of business relationships, we see François developing an alliance with his regular taxi driver Bruno (Dany Boon), whose social skills François admires. The unassuming driver tutors Francois in the art of empathy and teaches him the rule of the three “S”s – being sociable, smiling and sincere – necessary if François is to learn to get on with people. It occurs to François, as he enjoys the unsophisticated pleasures of the taxi driver’s life – football matches and Sunday lunch with his parents – that Bruno will serve as the friend he has been looking for to win his bet. To prove he is sincere in his declarations of friendship, Francois asks Bruno to steal the vase from his flat, apparently part of an insurance scam. When he finds out it is a scheme meant to test him, the sensitive Bruno storms off, pausing only to smash the vase, and cuts all ties with François.

That the plot finds a satisfactory conclusion owes much to an ingenious twist and a barely credible coincidence. Bruno collects facts as avidly as Francois does art works but it is only after their estrangement that he gains a place on a TV game show where he learns a deeper truth about friendship than mere affability. Unfortunately, the change of pace and the studio setting are at odds with what has gone before as the story descends into sentimental farce, sitting ill with the earlier mood of amused and wry observation. A final restaurant meeting some years later goes some but not all of the way towards restoring the mood of the earlier scenes.

© 2007 Sheila Cornelius. All rights reserved.

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