Pras On WorldFilms: MY BEST FRIEND

In this charming comedy, François (Daniel Auteuil) is an arrogant antique dealer who comes to the realization that his closest acquaintances don’t like him and he has no friends. His business partner Catherine (Julie Gayet) makes him a bet: If he can produce his best friend, she will let him keep the massive Greek vase he acquired that afternoon. If not, it’s hers. When calls to unlikely contacts turn fruitless, François implores Bruno (Dany Boon), a truly likable cabbie, to teach him the secrets of lovability. Directed and co-written by legendary French filmmaker Patrice Leconte (Intimate Strangers, Man on the Train, The Hairdresser’s Husband).

François Coste is a Paris antique dealer with a handsome gallery, an elegant apartment, a My Best Friendloyal business partner, a lover and a semi- estranged daughter. What he lacks — and what it turns out he needs most — is a friend. His personal relations are all organized around business or obligation, his manner is gracious but distant, and he finds himself, in middle age, lacking the kind of sustaining, easy connection with another person that can make life genuinely fulfilling. Such, at any rate, is the premise of “My Best Friend,” a sweet comic fable directed by Patrice Leconte. François is played by Daniel Auteuil, one of the most effortlessly ingratiating of French actors and also one of the best at portraying outwardly well-adjusted men who are also loners and misfits. “My Best Friend” is a comforting, sentimental tale of a kind that would be insufferably maudlin if made in Hollywood.— A. O. Scott.

Director Patrice Leconte discusses the subject of his latest movie, “My Best Friend.”

François is played by Daniel Auteuil, one of the most effortlessly ingratiating of French actors and also one of the best at portraying outwardly well-adjusted men who are also loners and misfits. François’s alienation is hardly as profound as that experienced by, for instance, the television host Mr. Auteuil played in Michael Haneke’s “Caché,” but you nonetheless feel his isolation and hurt.

Whether this condition is entirely believable, either as a social or a psychological phenomenon, is another matter. But it’s somewhat beside the point. “My Best Friend” is a comforting, sentimental tale of a kind that would be insufferably maudlin if made in Hollywood and unbearably affectless if it showed up at Sundance. Somehow it’s easier to take in French.
This is partly because Mr. Leconte situates his moral fantasy in a specific and well-observed world. François has an interesting, obdurate individuality, as does Bruno (Dany Boon), the taxi driver who becomes first his tutor in friendship and then, in fits and starts, his almost-friend. Catherine (Julie Gayet), François’s business partner, has made a bet with him: he must either produce a best friend within 10 days or give up a Greek vase he has impulsively bought at an auction. Without telling him about the bet, François engages Bruno to teach him how to be nicer.
But Bruno is the paradoxical mirror image of his would-be pal. He is friendly — helpful to strangers, chatty with customers, kind to his  parents — but also friendless. A trivia buff with dreams of appearing on a television quiz show, he is if anything  more of a misfit than François.
Lessons are learned, tears are shed, and Mr. Leconte leans as heavily on montage sequences as any hack purveyor of romantic-comedy clichés. And romantic comedy is, in the end, the genre to which “My Best Friend” belongs. It is about an improbable affection that must surmount various obstacles on the way to a bittersweet consummation, and also, more deeply, about a man’s zigzagging pursuit of the self-knowledge that can come only through the acknowledgment of another.  Some of its charm comes from the way it embeds these lofty abstractions in mundane, amusing circumstances. That sounds overly philosophical, I realize, but this is a French movie, after all.

My Best Friend by director/co-writer Patrice Leconte

 I’ve made films about love and friendship before, but I have never made a film where friendship itself was the subject. So when Jérôme Tonnerre approached me with the story for My Best Friend, I immediately expressed my enthusiasm and we started writing.

I was excited to write the story of a guy convinced he has many friends but then realizes that he, in fact, doesn’t have any. Acquaintances, co-workers, friends in passing but never a true friend.

Every one of us, in some form or another, can recognize themselves in the character of François: Who are our friends? Who is my best friend? And, are we obligated to have a best friend? We have all asked ourselves these questions at some point or another. In any case, I know that audiences will ask themselves this question after seeing my film.

The casting process, like on any film, was important for My Best Friend. Since Daniel Auteuil quickly took over the role of François (this character that has no friends), I had, I must admit, even more trouble deciding on the role of Bruno, a character that is sympathetic with everyone and who everyone finds sympathetic. Several options were possible.

There is one thing I have never talked about with anyone since I made this film. There was a moment during the preparation and casting of the film where I imagined that the role of Bruno could be played by a woman (the first name of the character would have been changed, of course). I was very enthusiastic about this idea because it allowed me to speak about something rarely dealt with in films, something that I am passionate and troubled about: friendship between a man and a woman.

This idea stayed with me for a week; I even discussed the part with an actress I thought was ideal. But then I realized that it would not work for this script as it would be impossible to completely ignore their romantic feelings. So I offered the part to Dany Boon and he is exceptional! And even better: Daniel Auteuil and he didn’t know each other prior to My Best Friend, but have since become the best of friends.
I am still convinced, though, that the film about friendship between a man and a woman needs to be made.

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