Directed by: Patrice Leconte
Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Dany Boon, Julie Gayet, Julie Durand, Henri Garcin, Jacques Mathou
Once again Patrice Leconte sneaks into town unnoticed with yet another gem of a movie to remind us what a terrific filmmaker he is—and once again, I find myself wondering why I don’t think much about Leconte in between his pictures. This time, however, I think I know why: He makes what he does look effortless. You never think, “what a great filmmaker,” only, “what a great film.” Artistically, that’s certainly valid, but promotionally, it’s something else again. The only obvious characteristics of Leconte’s films are that they are intelligently made and have a deep sense of and love for humanity. This limits his influence on mainstream movies, since neither seem to be qualities highly prized by mainstream filmmakers, and worse, they can’t be copied. As a result, you never see any fake Leconte pictures floating around.
His new film, My Best Friend, is perhaps the closest Leconte has come to a movie movie. It’s not less intelligent than his other works. And it’s certainly no less human, since the film is about learning to be human. It is, however, a film that relies more on specific incidents occurring—not always for clear reasons—in a certain manner to tell its story. There are at least two aspects of the film—both involving the Greek urn that the main character buys—that simply feel like they’re in the movie to drive the plot, and the same could be said of the urn itself to a certain degree. Or can it? Is the urn merely a contrivance, or is it—and the story of friendship behind it—really the symbol around which the entire film is built? The beauty of My Best Friend is that both answers are true, and the urn is as much a contrivance of François Coste’s (Daniel Auteuil) life as one of the film.
The film opens with François, a middle-aged antique dealer, at the funeral of man he didn’t really like and who, it turns out, didn’t like him. François is there specifically to cozy up to the widow in hopes of completing a deal over a piece of furniture. Yet the experience bothers François—not because of his callousness, but because so few people showed up at the man’s funeral. He’s then shocked to learn that none of the people with whom he’s dining consider him a friend, or would bother showing up at his funeral. With this in mind, he bids an outrageously large sum of his firm’s money at an auction for a Greek urn depicting friendship. His business partner, Catherine (Julie Gayet), is outraged, but makes him a deal: He can have the urn if he can produce a “best friend” in 10 days.
Finding no takers among his associates, he tries to make a friend—or at least learn how such a thing is accomplished. This is no more successful, until he enlists the aid of an overly chatty, trivia-obsessed taxi driver, Bruno (Dany Boon, The Valet). Bruno seems to have it all in the friend department, so he ought to be the perfect teacher, but not only are things not what they seem, they have a way of taking on a life of their own. Even though Bruno is hardly a likely friend for François, the two predictably gravitate toward each other, and Bruno becomes that best friend without François realizing it—or what it means. Equally predictable is the fact that François can’t keep a friend, because he knows nothing about friendship. He doesn’t even bother to know anything about his friend, which is hardly surprising for a man who doesn’t realize his business partner of many years is a lesbian.
Far less predictable is the manner in which François sets out to right things with Bruno after he betrays their friendship. About that I will say no more—except to note that it results in a climactic sequence that is far more suspenseful than anything I’ve seen in an action movie this year (or most years). Under Leconte’s guidance, My Best Friend becomes not just a delight, but a thoughtful delight. Few films I can remember so directly address the question of friendship, the nature of friendship, and, most of all, the illusion that our acquaintances and our friends are the same thing. That perhaps is something all of us might be well advised to examine. Rated PG-13 for some strong language.