Dir: Dominik Moll. France. 2000. 117 mins.
Prod co: Diaphana Films/M6. Int'l sales: Mercure Distribution. Prod: Michel Saint-Jean. Scr: Dominik Moll, Gilles Marchand. DoP: Matthieu Poirot-Delpech. Prod des: Michel Barthelemy. Ed: Yannick Kergoat. Mus: David Sinclair Whitaker. Main cast: Laurent Lucas, Sergi Lopez, Mathilde Seigner, Sophie Guillemin, Liliane Rovere.
Although audiences may not go entirely wild about Harry, Dominik Moll's intriguing second feature has enough mystery and unsettling humour to sustain its grip over two hours. Hitchcockian in tone, with a hint of 1960s Chabrol thrown in, Harry stands a good chance of decent box office returns in its home market, justifying Cannes' continuing commitment to providing exposure for smaller French films.
Overseas, its Cannes reception should elevate Moll from international anonymity and readily guarantee him further festival exposure. Miramax Films acquired all US and English-speaking Canadian rights to the film, halfway through the festival.
Confident in the allure of his story, Moll paces himself with care, allowing the viewer enough information to swallow the central situation without undue time to ponder its credibility.
An opening scene captures perfectly the nightmare of a frazzled family drive on a broiling summer's day. A building cacophony of moaning children and impossible demands are set to provoke parental road rage. Stopping to cool off, exasperated paterfamilias Michel (Lucas) unexpectedly bumps into avuncular old schoolfriend Harry (Lopez).
Michel can barely recall him, but Harry remembers every little detail of Michel's past. Soon, Harry and girlfriend Plum (Guillemin) have ingratiated themselves with Michel, his wife Claire (Seigner) and brood, and have accepted an invitation to stay at their ramshackle country retreat.
From its sunny beginnings, one anticipates the film's increasingly sinister mood without necessarily second-guessing its darker moments: there does seem a fair chance, however, that the unused well on the property will see some action.
Played by Sergio Lopez as a smiling charmer, Harry initially seems to be a gift from God. Rich, friendly and willing to do anything to help an old friend he is, of course, too good to be true - although that remains merely a suspicion for the first hour. Generous to a fault, he buys Michel a new car, flatters his ego and implores him to resume his writing career. Like Michel, we can't help but take a shine to him and his good intentions.
Just when it appears that there might be less to this tale than meets the eye, Moll chooses to embark on its more disturbing agenda and explore the extremes to which Harry will go in the name of friendship.
Not just another tale of a murderous maniac lurking beneath a surface of impenetrable civility, the film delves deeper into character and relationships. Harry may remain something of an enigma, but the others are revealed in all their strengths and weaknesses. Desperate to please, Michel is shown to have created his own prison of resentment and hostility and even girlfriend Plum is allowed a vulnerability that makes her more than a pretty face.
Their recognisable humanity lends a richness to the tale of murder and mystery that unfolds and helps confirm Moll as a director to watch.