TORONTO (CP) _ Love stories are a movie staple, but French director Patrice Leconte says the topic of friendship has yet to receive its cinematic due.
"In a lot of movies _ hundreds of them _ you see people become friends. But I haven’t seen many movies where friendship is the central theme, where it’s what’s most at stake (for the characters)," Leconte, 59, said in a recent interview from Montreal, where he has been promoting "My Best Friend."
The film, which is already playing in Quebec and opens in Toronto and Vancouver on Friday, features a lonely main character named Francois, an antique dealer who’s oblivious to the world around him. Francois lives for his job. He’s such a workaholic, in fact, that at a colleague’s funeral, he can’t help himself from closing a business deal with the grieving widow.
At a birthday party in a chic restaurant, his work associates all point out that he has no true friends, only business contacts. When Francois protests, his business partner Catherine proposes a bet.
Francois has 10 days to produce his best friend or he must give her a Greek vase he’s just purchased with company money. If he wins, he gets to keep it. Eventually Francois meets Bruno, a happy-go-lucky taxi driver who just won’t stop spouting useless facts.
Bruno is played by Dany Boon, an award-winning French actor who’s famous for his one-man stage shows. Canadians might remember him from an appearance at Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival in 2000. He’ll also be playing a role in an upcoming stage remake of "The Dinner Game," a 1998 comedy that was a big hit in Quebec.
Boon first appears when Francois hires Bruno to give him lessons on making friends. With Bruno’s guidance, Francois tries everything from the unlikely to the bizarre in a sequences of scenes that are both touching and funny.
Boon says watching "My Best Friend" last summer in front of a foreign audience at the Toronto International Film Festival was an interesting experience, because English-speaking audiences tend to laugh at different jokes.
But Boon says that’s not a sign Canadian audiences won’t get his new movie.
"It was the same (as in France) at the end of the screening," he says from his home in France. "People were talking about friendships and relationships and how things go in life."
Boon stars alongside one of France’s most well-liked actors, Daniel Auteuil. Leconte says he enjoyed having such an amiable, popular actor playing the role of a selfish loner.
"I thought it would be fun and original to have him play a person who’s so self-centred and hard to like," he said.
He adds that Auteuil and Boon had great chemistry on set, which is easy to see in most scenes starring the two. Boon’s high-energy style is the perfect contrast to Auteuil’s portrayal of the brooding, depressed Francois.
Auteuil and Leconte also have some chemistry of their own: "My Best Friend" is their third collaboration. "We do have a lot in common… He always says to me: ‘You and I are the same. We have to keep doing movies together,"’ says Leconte.
Throughout the film, Leconte skilfully and subtly plays up the contrast between Francois and Bruno until their differences trigger the film’s crisis. Though he may not be well-known to Canadian audiences, Leconte is one of France’s all-time great directors.
He got his big break directing "French Fried Vacation," a ’70s cult comedy about French vacationers on the Ivory Coast. To international film buffs, he’s known as the director of the 1989 film "Monsieur Hire," a drama shown at the Cannes film festival, where it got glowing reviews. "Monsieur Hire" was Leconte’s ninth film but his first drama.
Leconte is also behind such award-winning hits as "Man on the Train," "Intimate Strangers," and "The Hair Dresser’s Husband."
He says he expects the film to do well in both English and French Canada because friendship is the most basic of themes.
"People’s reactions to it are universal in a way that their reactions to love stories aren’t, because unlike friendship, love isn’t expressed the same way in Berlin, Tokyo, and Buenos Aires."