poison friends ("les amities malefiques") is, for a lack of a better label, an intelligentsia thriller. a wordier summary would be a bloodless thriller focused on a group of literature students at the sorbonne who are taken hostage, pyschologically, by one of their own. that particular svengali is an insufferable narcissist who is also a pathological liar who thoroughly enjoys controlling his easily maniputable comrades. phew! despite that almost overwought recap, the film is riveting and incredibly watchable!
the opening scene, the first class of a literature seminar at the sorbonne, carried faint echoes of the paper chase. but the professor, claude mortier, is no charles kingsfield. after andre morney(thibault vicon) takes on a speaking challenge and gives an impromptu discourse (an assignment to have begun with the second lecture -with students using the interim to prepare) mortier labels him brilliant. what did andre say? basically, that writing should only be done out of necessity.
but andre takes that much further, insisting no one should write at all! he quotes karl klaus "why do some write? because they're too weak not to." he uses this hackneyed line repeated to bludgeon his friends into being ashamed of their own writing. at one point he heckles a fellow student for publishing in a literary magazine! another, eloi duhaut, is so unnerved by his views that he throws out his own manuscript (luckily, his mother not only salvages it from the trash but submits it to her publisher and it's accepted).
andre is so pompous that he actually makes the case for critics! it's the critic's job to expose and root out the weak and useless writers! espoused by such an egoist, it almost seemed plausible. but andre would have done well to heed another quote from his hero, klaus: "education is a crutch with which the foolish attack the wise to prove that they are not idiots." but andre does mentor his colleagues to a remarkable degree. he convinces one, alexandre pariente to give up literature and pursue acting (at which he succeeds). and he convinces eloi to continue in literature (his mother is a famous author) and write his thesis on james ellroy!
ellroy is a fascinating selection for andre. professor mortier, who is also supervising andre's thesis, agrees to supervise eliot's work on ellroy (in small part because of eloi's connection with andre). while not developed in the film, ellroy is a contemporary american author (whose nickname is "the demon dog of american crime fiction"). he's a hard boiled version of hunter s. thompson. given andre's contempt for america it's an astonishing concession! it's with his own thesis, however, that andre meets with his undoing.
without spoiling the ending of this fascinating character study, andre's dramatic comeuppance begins when he submits his thesis to professor mortier. mortier is shocked and disappointed that andre spent little if any time during the preceding six months working on it. he rejects the submission and decides to no longer supervise andre's work. overnight andre rewrites an entire section and want mortier to reconsider. when he refuses, andre slaps him in the face and leaves. but not before constructing yet another elaborate lie for his friends consumption.
how the film develops after this scene says as much about eloi and alexandre as it does about andre. the relationship between and among these three characters as time moves forward and their lives assume adult dimensions is both dark and humorous. the title of the film emerges when eloi crosses out his original title on the book proofs and pencils in "poison friends." the end certainly plays off the title.
put this one on your netflix queue. if you're a writer (in any shape, form or quantity) don't pass it up :D
check out the trailer (even if the scenes are cut and pasted out of sequence):