Monday, March 25, 2013

movie review: With A Friend Like Harry (alternate title: Harry, He's Here to Help)

With A Friend Like Harry/Harry, He's Here to Help (2000)
Directed by Dominik Moll

The film begins with a scene familiar to anyone who has driven for too long in a hot car on a family vacation. Michel and Claire, a couple in their 30s, are headed to their summer vacation home with their three small children who are crying, screaming, and kicking the back of the driver's seat. They stop to gather their wits and cool off at a gas station, where Michel runs into an old classmate in the men's toilets. Harry remembers Michel, but Michel does not remember Harry. That's OK; Harry remembers more than enough for the both of them.

It turns out Harry is now very wealthy and is travelling with his beautiful young girlfriend, Plum (Prune, in French), to Switzerland. But before long he has invited himself and Plum to Michel and Claire's for drinks and before you know it, they are ensconced, meddling away busily in the young family's lives.

There's something off about Harry right from the beginning: he is a little too ingratiating, too familiar, too concerned with Michel and what Harry considers his wasted potential as a writer. He remembers details from their school days with a strange, obsessive clarity. This was something I found unconvincing about the film--there are several things Harry says or does that would raise alarm bells for me, but Michel and Claire seem to think he's only slightly odd and continue to accept his and Plum's extremely intrusive presence in their lives.

The film becomes more and more sinister, and Harry's willingness to intervene in Michel's life becomes more extreme. The filmmaker is skilled at creating tension, because we know things about Harry's personality that the other characters do not, so we are often left on pins and needles as we see characters interacting with him as though he is a rational actor. We want to warn them, but our inability to do anything but watch as Harry wreaks his influence on Michel's life is what makes the movie almost unbearably suspenseful. Hitchcock would have been proud.

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