Harry – He’s Here To Help

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

HARRY, HE’S HERE TO HELP

8/10

(Harry, Un Ami Qui Vous Veut Du Bien/With A Friend Like Harry)
Fr 2000
dir Dominik Moll
scr Moll, Gilles Marchand
cin Matthieu Poirot-Delpech
stars Laurent Lucas, Sergi Lopez, Mathilde Seigner, Sophie Guillemin
112-7 minutes

A clumsy title hides a dazzlingly deadpan comic thriller, a homage to Hitchcock and Highsmith in the vein of Spoorloos (The Vanishing) and Funny Games. Like those movies, Harry is about degrees of insinuation, shading from sunny normality into depths of disturbing darkness, but with a jauntily light audacity all of its own, even as it glimpses the abyss.

Michel (Lucas) is a harassed thirtysomething city-dweller, driving to his country cottage with his wife Claire (Seigner) and three little girls, the family turning increasingly fractious in the confines of their oven-like car. Close to breaking point, Michel takes a break at a motorway service station, where he bumps into the charming Harry Balestrero (Lopez), a friend from high school Michel admits he can’t quite place, but who he ends up inviting to the cottage for a drink. Harry is keen to renew old acquaintances, prodding Michel towards resuming the creative writing he’d abandoned at school – and he’ll go to alarming lengths to remove the various ‘obstacles’ he sees standing in his old pal’s path…

The less audiences know about the twists and turns the movie takes the better. Though the movie recalls The Shining and Fight Club, even perhaps Misery, with Harry a close cousin of Patricia Highsmith’s agree psycho Tom Ripley, Moll’s achievement is much more than the sum of its parts. Harry‘s great strength is that it works just as well as a fast-paced, engaging drama, while also fascinating in symbolic, psychological terms. Harry arrives on the scene just at the moment Michel needs him most, as if he’s been conjured up out of Michel’s subconscious and given real form, a genie with superhuman powers of determination and resourcefulness.

It’s all about the sly accumulation of details, nuances, the believable rough edges of its situations and characters, and the spot-on performances help no end. Lopez brings just the right note of freewheeling glamour to the showcase role of Harry, wittily contrasting against the Lucas’ underplaying as the hangdog, downtrodden Michel. If Harry ultimately falls a little short of some of its forbears, it’s due partly to the slightly overdone Hitchcock nods (the music; Harry’s Wrong Man surname), partly to the relatively upbeat, crowdpleasing ending.

While both Spoorloos and Funny Games achieved the remorseless logic of nightmare – with the worst possible outcomes for their heroes – Harry instead closes on a positive note that’s only mildly ambiguous: thanks to Harry, Michel is much better off. And, though the film does allow us a glimpse of real horror, there’s never any real danger that it won’t pull us back at the last moment.

by Neil Young
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