Four years after MAN ON THE TRAIN (2003), the always-dependable French director Patrice Leconte returns to the subject of friendship with another mordantly funny and unexpectedly touching odd-couple buddy comedy.
During a routine visit to an upscale auction house with his business partner Catherine (Julie Gayet), Parisian antiques dealer Francois Coste (Daniel Auteuil) spots a piece he simply must have: a fifth-century terra-cotta funeral vase depicting Achilles and his companion Patroclus, reportedly commissioned by a wealthy Athenian to commemorate the death of a beloved friend. According to legend, the grieving Greek filled the vase with his tears. Francois is determined to have it for himself, even if it means entering into a bidding war with a gentlemanly collector (Henri Garcin) and putting his own business at risk. Francois' final bid an astonishing 228,000 Euros proves too rich for his competitor's blood, and when the gavel falls the vase is his. That night at a dinner party for an acquaintance, Francois recounts the details of a former client's funeral and expresses his dismay that a mere seven people showed up to offer final farewells. Catherine, still angry over Francois' inconsiderate and financially irresponsible behavior at the auction, pointedly tells him he'll be lucky if anyone shows up for his funeral: Francois, she claims, is so unlikable, so single-minded in his pursuit of success and objets d'art, that he'll be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to call him a friend. When Francois protests, Catherine proposes a wager: If, at the end of the month, Francois can produce someone he can honestly introduce as his best friend, he can keep his precious vase. If not, he must give it up. After a mad scramble through his phone book, Francois comes up with a short list of embittered business contacts who have no desire to parlay into friendship their past unpleasant professional experiences with so ruthless and tactless a colleague. Desperate to hold on to his invaluable vase which is, ironically, a symbol of eternal friendship Francois thinks of one fellow who would probably be happy to consider him a friend if given the opportunity: Bruno (Dany Boon), a gregarious cabdriver who irritates Francois with his endless barrage of trivia. (In fact, it's always been Bruno's dream to appear on a TV game show, but he's continually undone by a debilitating case of nerves.) Being a fundamentally sociable and good-natured guy, Bruno eagerly accepts Francois' overtures of friendship, but has no idea of Francois' real motives.
The whole thing climaxes with Bruno's appearance on the French counterpart to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? an ingenious conceit that injects a dose of nail-biting suspense into the otherwise low-key plot but it's really the performances that move this charming comedy along. Like the improbable friendship between the poetry-loving recluse and the migraine-afflicted hired killer in MAN ON THE TRAIN, the heart of the film rests entirely on the chemistry between two very different characters. Leconte and cowriter Jerome Tonnerre have crafted some sharp and observant dialogue, which Auteuil and the far less well-known but equally matched Boon delivery with aplomb. leave a comment --Ken Fox