My Best Friend

by

Prolific French director Patrice Leconte is the master of the awkward alliance. In the majority of his films released in the U.S., from the Hitchcockian love story of a voyeur Monsieur Hire (1989) to his latest, a Rohmeresque exploration of male bonding, Leconte has documented the unexpected benefits of chance encounters for Parisians trapped in lonely lives.

While My Best Friend may be one of Leconte's most light-hearted films, it's no Amélie-style fable of well-deserved bliss. The central characters are testy and grating, each so immersed in his insular world that he can't see how forward motion is an illusion when you're running in place.

Antiques dealer François Coste (Daniel Auteuil) is an expert at building and maintaining professional relationships, but oblivious to the inner lives of those closest to him (including both his teenage daughter and girlfriend).

Yet François is shocked when, at a group dinner, his business partner Catherine (Julie Gayet) asserts that he has no real friends. After his emphatic denials, a bet emerges: in one week, François must introduce them to his best friend or forfeit an object he truly cherishes.

François purchased an ancient Greek vase commemorating the intense relationship of Achilles and Patroclus (whose mutual devotion François interprets as a completely platonic friendship), and knowing how much he prizes this piece, Catherine makes it the object of their bet. Enter gregarious taxi driver Bruno Bouley (Dany Boon), who seems to have the easy way with people François lacks. But the joke is that while François is abrasive and cold, Bruno is too friendly, constantly ingratiating himself with strangers, a quality some clients find endearing.

In an increasingly humiliating series of comic tableaux, which Leconte renders in vibrant widescreen images, François tries to learn the art of making friends while ignoring that his coach Bruno could really use one himself.

Like some of Leconte's best films — The Girl on the Bridge (1999) and Intimate Strangers (2004) — the acerbic wit of My Best Friend is cut with a dollop of sentimentality. Leconte is a keen observer of emotional isolation, and easily exposes the vein of pain in comedic situations. So with this hapless duo, he's not afraid to show compassion, allowing François and Bruno to provide each other a much-needed lifeline.

Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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