Teacher-student relationships extend outside the classroom in Emmanuel Bourdieu’s Poison Friends, in which the gregarious, highly erudite André (Thibault Vinçon) becomes educational and moral mentor to new classmates Alex (Alexandre Steiger), who’s considering taking up acting, and Eloi (Malik Zidi), whose mother Florence (Dominique Blanc) is a famous author being driven crazy by a recent tell-all book. With boundless arrogance and demands for conformity, André repeatedly quotes Karl Kraus (“Why do some write? Because they’re too weak not to”) while convincing Alex to pursue his thespian dreams and Eloi to avoid personal writing, the latter of which he views as an activity suitable only for an intellectual few. It’s apparent from the outset that, contrary to his own opinion, André is himself not one of these select individuals, as his habit of dropping literary references in casual company, pretending to care about his pals while secretly stabbing them in the back, and engaging in manipulative behavior reveals him to be little more than a conceited prick with a God complex who gets off on exerting dominion over his impressionable comrades. Therein lies the crux of Poison Friends’s problem, as the director intends for us to be both charmed by André’s bluster and then saddened by his final comeuppance, but fails to present him as a character deserving either empathy or pity; in the end, he’s simply a smug cretin who pays the consequences for his own hubris. The same holds true for Alex and Eloi, two supposedly sharp twentysomethings whose unreasonable devotion to André speaks less to the inner workings of peer group dynamics and more to their spineless vacuity; that they eventually turn on their mentor for lying, completely blind to the fact that his (self-interested) guidance gave them their success, merely reinforces their distastefulness. When coupled with a trio of fine performances, Bourdieu’s light directorial touch manages to keep such fundamental flaws from ever fully engulfing the narrative, and at times his deft editing brings an undercurrent of dark, seductive suspense to the generally un-tense action. But his film ultimately has little to say about friendship other than that it’s sometimes maintained by less-than-kind motives and reciprocated with equal coldness—an unenlightening revelation sure to be familiar to anyone who ever attended high school.
Score:Cast: Thibault Vinçon, Malik Zidi, Alexandre Steiger, Thomas Blanchard, Dominique Blanc, Natacha Régnier, Jacques Bonnaffé Director: Emmanuel Bourdieu Screenwriter: Emmanuel Bourdieu, Marcia Romano Distributor: Strand Releasing Running Time: 107 min Rating: NR Year: 2006 Buy: Video