Friends you can count on, on one hand

As if he has wandered into some stark Biblical allegory, François Coste (Auteuil) is issued an existential challenge: Within the next 10 days, prove that you have a friend faithful enough to be willing to take a risk for you. “Isn’t there anybody you can call at 3 a.m. in case you have a big problem?” he is asked. In Genesis, God promises Abraham that Sodom will be spared if 10 righteous persons can be found within it; of course, the city is obliterated. In My Best Friend, Paris is not burning, but François yearns to convince not only his cynical dinner companions but also himself that beyond a wide network of contacts and acquaintances he can count on at least one true friend.

Oscar Wilde once quipped that George Bernard Shaw “has not an enemy in the world, and none of his friends like him.” François, a sophisticated and prosperous antiques dealer, realizes that none of those who like him is really his friend. Spurred by a bet that would net him a costly ancient Greek terra-cotta vase (inscribed with the images of Achilles and Patroclus, legendary buddies), he sets about trying to find a pal. In the hands of the late Ingmar Bergman, the quest would be bathed in lush Scandinavian angst. But director Patrice Leconte (Monsieur Hire, The Man on the Train) recruits an accordion, not a cello, for his soundtrack, and Gallic effervescence keeps the proceedings from becoming too glum.

Indeed, many of the episodes are downright cartoonish. During a giddy series of botched attempts to acquire a friend — by reading How to Make Friends, calling Dial-a-Friend, and tracking down a hostile childhood playmate — François encounters Bruno Bouley (Boon), a gregarious cabbie willing to tutor him in the fundamentals of friendship.

“Some can’t play sports,” François confesses. “I can’t make friends.” In this screenplay, making friends becomes an Olympic contact sport. Bruno, a self-taught polymath whose very ebullience tends to ward off amity, coaches his sullen pupil that the secret to acquiring friends is to be “sympathique, souriant, et sincère” (sociable, smiling, and sincere). François, a divorcée who has measured his professional success through the acquisition of objects, learns a lesson in human relationships. So does Bruno, a lonely extrovert obsessed with displaying his erudition on a TV quiz show.

Love, sex, and power are staples of cinema, but movies have been wary of friendship, perhaps because (male) producers have been. My Best Friend demonstrates that the notorious male fear of intimacy is apparently as debilitating in France as it is in the United States. It is the kind of sprightly European import that will do well enough at local box offices to inspire an American version that, because marketed in English, will outperform the original.  In fact, some congenial American producers have already announced that they will remake My Best Friend. With friends like that, who needs angels? Or even 10 righteous persons? •


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