Dir: Emmanuel Bourdieu. Fr. 2006. 103mins.
The theme of young male friendship gets a vigorousthough hardly ground-breaking workout in PoisonFriends, French screenwriter Emmanuel Bourdieu'ssecond directorial outing, which opened Critics' Week at Cannes. Though theprotagonists are already at university, this still qualifies as a coming-of-agemovie, which (not for the first time) shows how rejecting false masters, andlearning to identify true ones, is part of the process of growing up.
Timeless in its bestsequences, dated in its worst, the film has good dramatic bone structure butlacks a certain punch. The cast will ring bells only with audiences on homeground, where Poison Friends canexpect to do respectable business somewhere in the middle of the homegrown top 10. Overseas prospects are shakier.
Set at an unnamed Parisianuniversity that closely resembles the Sorbonne, Poison Friends is essentially the story of EloiDuhaut (Malik Zidi), the university-age son of a famous writer mother (DominiqueBlanc), though the script nicely smokescreens, for a while, the fact that Eloi is the hero of the piece.
The film's dark centre - though one wishes he were darker - is Andre Morney (Thibault Vincon), one of those student legends (we've all met them) whocomes on as a nihilist intellectual giant but turns out to be a fake. But Eloi and another impressionable young arts student, Alexandre (Alexandre Steiger) are impressed enough to become awkward disciplesof their anti-Christ fellow student, who in reality is just a smarter versionof the school bully.
In the process they go alongwith Andre's cruel exclusion of the Judas of the piece, Edouard(Thomas Blanchard), who is guilty, in the master 'seyes, of the ultimate crime: creative scribbling - which can only add to thesum total of unnecessary writing, Andre 's main bugbear.
With his Jim Morrison looksand instant ability to quote any fashionable thinker or writer, in order, asoften as not, to put him down, Andre seems more a child of thedeconstructionist 1980s than the relativist 2000s. Only a few tell-tale signs -like the latest version of the Mac operating system - inform us that we areindeed in the present day.
Poison Friends is a smallfilm, but also, for most of its length, a well-crafted one. The parabola (theweak become strong as the strong one becomes weak) is neatly played out, andthe four young actors are all good, with Thibaultstanding out in his role as a riven, angry contradiction:a self-hating egoist, a girl-hating lothario, a writer-hatingliterary critic.
Gregoire Hetzel 's romantic piano-and-stringsclassical score racks up the timeslip factor, the sensethat we are in a period as mythically remote as the scenes from Racine whichbudding actor Alexandre keeps rehearsing. Visually, crampedinteriors dominate, a feeling emphasised by the use of the Scope format not asa wide breathing space but as a vice, pinching characters at the top and bottomof the screen.
It's a shame that the endtakes on a didactic tone, flashing the script messages too insistently. This issolid material, but one wonders what it might have become if it had beendarkened down by a director like Cedric Kahn or Jacques Audiard.As it is, the stakes of the dangerous master-disciple game are never raisedquite high enough.
Les Films du Losange
Yorick Le Saux
Yorick Le Saux