Francois (Daniel Auteuil, “Apres Vous”, “Jean De Florette” and many, many other French Films), an antiques dealer, attends an auction with his business partner, Catherine (Julie Gayet). She is aghast when Francois gets into a bidding war with a television producer for an ancient Greek vase depicting the story of two friends. Francois wins the vase, and Catherine is shocked when writing out the check for such a large amount. After the auction, they attend a dinner with a group of acquaintances. Very pleased with the vase and its story, Francois turns the conversation to his new acquisition and learns he really has no friends, the acquaintances are finally fed up with Francois’ arrogance and don’t mince words when telling him the truth. But he won’t, can’t admit they are right and claims they haven’t met his best friend. Catherine bets him that he can’t produce this best friend within ten days. Bruno (Dany Boon, “The Valet”), a taxi driver, works in Francois’ neighborhood and takes him a few places. As they get to know one another, Francois realizes Bruno could be his “best friend”. When he reveals the pick to Catherine, he realizes Bruno will need to make some sort of ‘grand gesture’ to qualify. As the antiques dealer tries to figure out what this might be, he also learns more and more about his new friend. They go to a football match, they have dinner at Bruno’s parent’s home, he meets Francois’ daughter. But will Francois recognize his genuine friendship with Bruno before he jeopardizes it?
“My Best Friend (Mon Meilleur Ami)”, the new film directed by Patrice Laconte (“The Widow of St. Pierre”, “The Man on the Train”, “The Girl on the Bridge”, “Ridicule”), is yet another example of this filmmaker’s skill and desire to create films about real people in real situations. Each of his films tells an interesting, believable, intensely watch able story about two or three people in a situation. Laconte does not create spectacles; he seems to be unaware of the creation of CGI and there are never any car chases in his films. Instead, his films are about people, the decisions they make, the things they do, the people they know and love.
“Friend” tells the story of two men who form a friendship. I have become so conditioned by certain conventions in cinema that I kept waiting for the ‘wacky’ subplot about people mistaking them for a ‘Gay’ couple. Its such a rare thing to find a film about two guys who are friends that when we do, there is almost always some story line about people mistaking them as guy, because of course if two guys are ‘friends’ they can only be lovers as well. It seems to make many viewers uncomfortable to see two adult males as friends, which is why we almost always have films about three or four guys hanging out together, each of these guys representing a stereotype of the ‘male’. As I sat watching “Friend”, I kept waiting for this subplot to rear its tired, overworked head. But then I had to remind myself this is a Patrice Laconte film. It won’t happen. And it didn’t. How refreshing. It is such a rarity in cinema today, to watch a film about two guys who are friends.
I should never have expected Laconte to use this tired cliché in his film. If anything, I should have expected just the opposite. Laconte is all about the characters. When a filmmaker devotes so much time and effort to establishing his characters and letting them drive the story, he won’t (can’t?) insert artificial and hokey subplots. In each of Laconte’s films, he lets the relationships unwind in a natural and completely realistic way. Because this is so unusual, and something we rarely see, we consider it an exception rather than the norm. These characters are more real than just about every other character depicted on the screen.
And Francois and Bruno are no exception. Auteuil is probably the second most prolific actor in French cinema, behind only Gerard Depardieu. Because he works so much, we see him more often in the films imported from France to our country. And he is an actor with remarkable expression, charm and range. The last thing I saw him in was “Apres Vous”, a comedy about a French waiter and some of his associates. It was fun, but uneven. Auteuil has been in a few of Laconte’s previous films and I think the duo is the French equivalent of Scorsese and DeNiro. They work very well together.
Francois is an egotistical jerk who doesn’t even realize the people surrounding him are keeping him company out of a sense of obligation; most are business associates and would rather not lose the income. He even treats others in this same way; he attends an associate’s funeral just to get a crack at a desk the deceased owned. But when Francois insists one of them is a ‘best friend’, they have had enough. They let him in on the truth. Francois is stunned. Auteuil reveals a lot of things in this moment; he shows Francois’ shock, bewilderment, realization and more without a lot of gestures or facial movements, the overriding emotion seems to be the realization that Francois is a lonely man. And this spurs him to find a friend. Auteuil‘s character is a grown man, so rather than break down and cry, he becomes determined to find someone he can label a ‘best friend’. This determination becomes a reality when Catherine bets him he can’t produce this friend for them to see. Because Francois is so egotistical and self-involved, this seems completely natural and real for this character. The only thing that will override his shock and dismay at learning he has no friends is his determination to win the bet. He sets out to win with all of his skill, might and resolve.
As the story progresses and evolves, Auteuil’s Francois remains consistent and believable.
I have not seen Boon in any previous films and he is equally good as Bruno, the taxi driver who becomes Francois personal driver and then friend, he has openness, an air that would make him susceptible to someone like François. Bruno is a talkative guy, well versed in facts and welcome and willing to talk to one and all. As they talk, and Bruno starts to spout random trivia, Francois learns he has studied all his life to become a contestant on a game show. The one time he earned a tryout, he became too nervous. Francois is, at first, annoyed by the talkative cabbie, but is soon won over by his openness and friendliness. When he learns of Bruno’s aborted attempt to become a game show contestant, he becomes all the more intrigued.
The relationship between the two men is also key to the film’s success. At first, Francois is a little put off by Bruno’s friendly, open nature. For many people in large metropolitan areas, it is easier, safer to stay within your own little world and not to open up too much to strangers. Bruno is a talkative guy, trying to elicit conversation with Francois, so much so that when Francois realizes he is about to get a cab with Bruno, he keeps walking. But when he realizes Bruno could be “the best friend”, he starts to actively pursue the relationship.
As Francois becomes more involved in Bruno’s life, he slowly learns more and more about his friend. This is information that will both inform his actions and help him understand the consequences after Francois’ grand gesture gimmick.
The relationship also plays out in a very realistic nature. After Francois realizes he has hurt Bruno, he learns why. And he tries to make a grand gesture of his own, to make things right. But just because this happens, it doesn’t mean they are going to patch up the relationship immediately.
“My Best Friend”, which is already slated to be remade as an American film (wacky gay subplot anyone?) is a very good film exploring the relationship of two men. Two grown men who are friends. And straight as can be.