Poison Friends

2006, Movie, NR, 107 mins


Written and directed by former philosophy professor Emmanuel Bourdieu, who scripted Arnaud Desplechin's MY SEX LIFE… OR HOW I GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT (1996) and ESTHER KAHN (2000), this sly, subtle and very French psychological drama dissects the relationship between three insecure Sorbonne students and their deeply flawed idol.

Eloi (Malik Zidi), Alexandre (Alexandre Steiger), Edouard (Thomas Blanchard) and Andre (Thibault Vincon) meet on the first day of class in imperious Professor Mortier's (Jacques Bonnaffe) literature class. Alexandre hopes to be a playwright, while Eloi, the diffident son of popular novelist Florence Duhaut (Dominique Blanc), and Edouard both want to be writers. Charismatic Andre is the star — the much-respected Professor Mortier proclaims him brilliant — but he keeps his aspirations to himself; his favorite aphorism is Austrian essayist Karl Kraus' waspish admonition that most people write "because they're too weak not to." Andre manipulates lives rather than language, and makes over his classmates to his own perversely exacting specifications. He knows the best — the only — way to do everything: drink coffee, prepare for an audition, seduce a girl. His friends are too dazzled by his facile wit, calculated charm, androgynous sex appeal, capricious but forceful opinions, and formidable knowledge of literature and literary theory to fully realize what's happening until they find themselves in Andre's merciless sights. Edouard is the first to fall from grace: Andre eviscerates the story he publishes in a small literary magazine and makes it clear that henceforth, Edouard is no longer part of the gang. Edouard doesn't believe he's serious until Andre deliberately closes a door in his face.

Andre's head games escalate as they approach graduation: He browbeats Alexandre into abandoning writing for acting and chooses Eloi's dissertation topic for him. He maliciously drives a wedge between Alexandre and his girlfriend, and he sabotages Eloi's efforts to woo pretty Marguerite (Natacha Regnier), yet another aspiring writer, in order to claim her for himself. That relationships are rarely, if ever, free of ulterior motives and selfish agendas will be a revelation only to the very young and deeply naive. But Bourdieu's razor-sharp parsing of the ties that bind Andre, Eloi and Alexandre is mesmerizing. Andre's eventual comeuppance is inevitable, and in a film full of off-kilter turns, Bourdieu plays it for everyday tragedy rather than spiteful satisfaction. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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