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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, June 09, 2007

 
Saturday Night At The Movies

SIFF-ting Through Celluloid-Part 1

By Dennis Hartley

The 2007 Seattle International Film Festival is in full swing, so I thought that for the next few posts I would take you along to some of this year’s screenings.

Navigating a film festival is no easy task, even for a dedicated buff. This year’s SIFF is screening nearly 400 features and short films, over a period just shy of four weeks. It must be a wonderful opportunity for independently wealthy slackers, but for those of us who have to work for a living, it’s a little tough catching the North American premiere of that hot new documentary from Uzbekistan that is only screening once at 11:45am on a Tuesday. I’m lucky if I can catch ten films each year, but I do take consolation from my observation that the ratio of crap movies (too many) to quality movies (too few) at a film festival differs little from any Friday night at the multiplex. The trick lies in developing a sixth sense for which titles “feel” like they would most likely be up your alley (or, in my case, embracing your OCD and channeling it like a cinematic divining rod.)

Some of the films I will be reviewing will hopefully be “coming to a theatre near you” in the near future; on the other hand there may be a few that will only be accessible via DVD (the Netflix queue is our friend!). BTW, if you are lucky enough to go to Sundance, Toronto or Cannes, let’s get this out of the way now-Yes, I am quite aware that Seattle gets sloppy seconds from some of the more prestigious festivals; so go ahead, we’ll wait while you do your little “superior dance”. Okay, feel better? Good! Now let’s move on!

First up, we’ll take a look at the latest film from French director Patrice Leconte, “Mon Meilleur Ami” (“My Best Friend”), starring Daniel Auteil.

We are introduced to glum-faced antique dealer Francois Coste (Auteil) as he attends a funeral. After the service, Francois approaches the grieving widow and mutters a few perfunctory condolences. She doesn’t seem to recognize him; he explains that her husband was a client, then after pausing a beat, asks her if it would still be okay to stop by and take a look at a piece of furniture he had arranged to appraise for him before his unexpected demise. His faux pas and the look she gives him tell us everything we need to know about our hero’s complete and utter lack of charm.

Later, at a dinner with clients, Francois tells his business partner Catherine (Julie Gayet) about the sad lack of attendees at the funeral, an image he can’t shake. Imagine leading such a pathetic, friendless existence that no one shows up at your funeral! Catherine seizes this moment to confront Francois about his own inability to connect with people, which he naturally denies. Flustered and humiliated, Francois accepts her challenge to produce a “best friend” within the week. Francois has his work cut out for him.

Serendipity leads Francois to the perfect mark-Bruno Bouley (Dany Boon) an outgoing cab driver who seems to have an effortless manner of ingratiating himself to strangers. As we get a closer look at Bruno, he seems an unlikely mentor; he is divorced, takes anti-depressants, lives alone in a tiny apartment next door to his elderly parents, where he spends all his spare time cutting out newspaper articles and memorizing trivial facts in hopes of someday winning a fortune on a quiz show.

Initially, Francois takes an anthropological approach; he observes Bruno with the same sort of bemused detachment that Alan Bates studied Anthony Quinn in “Zorba the Greek”. What is Bruno’s secret to connecting to people…to Life? In spite of his ulterior motives, Francois begins to develop a genuine bond with Bruno, leading to some ironic twists and complications. Uh-oh, you’re thinking-we’re going to learn Life Lessons about the value of True Friendship, aren’t we? (Cue the “After School Special” theme…)

I was reminded a wee bit of another French film, Francis Veber’s 1999 social satire “The Dinner Game”, in which a group of snobs, for their amusement, challenge each other to feign friendship with an “idiot” and invite him to a special dinner night, competing to see who can produce the “biggest idiot”. And of course, the “idiot” gets the last laugh, and Lessons are Learned. (Apparently, the French adore “comedies” steeped in discomfiture.)

In his previous films, Leconte has displayed a knack for delivering compelling character studies that are wistful, brooding, darkly humorous yet simultaneously uplifting and life-affirming (his apex 2002 masterpiece “Man on the Train (L'Homme du Train)” resonated with me in such a deeply profound manner that I have become emotionally attached to it). I wish I could say the same for “My Best Friend”. It is certainly not what I would call a “bad” film (even lesser Laconte stands head and shoulder above most typical Hollywood grist) but there is a bit too much of that dreaded, audience pandering, “feel good ending” contrivance going on in the third act that mixes too jarringly with what has preceded.

I would still recommend this film, especially for the wonderful performances. Auteil, one of France’s top actors, is always worth watching, and Boon delivers nary a false note with a funny and touching performance as the ebullient yet mentally fragile Bruno.

In the meantime, if you want to catch up on some of Patrice Laconte’s back catalogue, I would also recommend “Ridicule”, “The Hairdresser's Husband” and “The Girl on the Bridge”.


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