POISON FRIENDS (France / 2006)
*A 2007 U.S. Release*
Thibault Vinons Andr Morney is as fascinating a villain a film set in the sterile literary confines of a Parisian university could possibly have. Egotistical yet charismatic, flamboyant yet mysterious, Morney bullies and manipulates his way through every intellectual discussion yet comes out smelling like a rose, partly because hes often on the mark. Directed by Emmanuel Bourdieu -- Arnaud Desplechins writing partner on My Sex Life... or How I Got Into an Argument (1996), Esther Kahn (2000) and Playing 'In the Company of Men' (2003) -- Poison Friends (Les Amitis malfiques) is an intelligent and well-crafted film which begins by depicting the very first day of a grad school class. Already in his disposition, Morney, like one of those students Im sure everyone has come across at one time or another, not only appears to be well acquainted with the instructor but is willing to submit a presentation anytime, anywhere -- he ends up quoting Austrian satirist Karl Kraus ("Why do some people write? Because they are too weak not to") in front of dozens of aspiring scribes that afternoon. Eventually, this avid reader and paladin of supreme writing becomes a mentor and more to a trio of his tentative, impressionable classmates (played by Malik Zidi, Alexandre Steiger and Thomas Blanchard) and a comely librarian (Natacha Rgnier) they all want to bed.
Bourdieu recently stated in an interview that "I really like characters who are unproductive and even sometimes self-destructive, because they are so demanding of themselves and others." Morney is an ingenious creation who, perhaps not surprisingly, is a composite of certain individuals the filmmaker came across during his studies (Bourdieu belongs to a highly intellectual family and is himself a graduate of the prestigious cole Normale Suprieure). And despite a late narrative hiccup or two, even when Morney is inevitably unfurled, the film refuses to let go of the profound contradiction which arises that, no matter what, he still might be the true genius of the bunch. Handsomely shot (in 'scope, and at times in a rangy, Assayas-like fashion; DP Yorick Le Saux has worked with the master on Late August, Early September , demonlover  and Boarding Gate ) and acted (though Vinon has the meatiest role, the films secret star is Zidi, who won the Csar earlier this year for "Most Promising Actor"), Poison Friends also keeps the door open for a more dramatic denouement but Bourdieu rightfully sticks to his guns, and keeps a firm control over the proceedings. Nevertheless, as The Village Voices Jim Hoberman asserted, "[the film] may be all talk, but its cut like an action flick."
*POISON FRIENDS premiered at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival (Critics' Week) and won the sidebar competition's Grand Prize. The film also played at the highly selective NYFF.
*Now available on U.S. DVD (Strand Releasing). No extra features of any value.