Tag: sergi lopez

With a Friend Like Harry…

With a Friend Like Harry… (2000)
★★ / ★★★★

Michel (Laurent Lucas), Claire (Mathilde Seigner), and their three kids are on their way to see the children’s grandparents for summer vacation. In a cramped car with no working air conditioner, everyone is angry, annoyed, and exhausted. In a restroom rest stop, a man (Sergi López) who had just finished washing his hands stops dead in his tracks. He recognizes Michel, tells him that he is Harry, a former classmate from twenty years ago. Harry remembers details so specific that Michel figures that it is his own problem for not remembering anything about this man. Soon, Harry and Plum (Sophie Guillemin), his girlfriend, are invited to join Michel and his family in their vacation home.

Written by Dominik Moll and Francis Villain, “Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien” leaves its cage with early scenes that promise a morbid curiosity but it is ultimately a tepid combination of black comedy and thriller. Especially problematic is its second half, rife with situations driven by the swelling of the score, actively banging at our eardrums like gongs, to serve as signal that something important is occurring.

The slow rising action works for itself. Since the plot moves as a snail’s pace, our attention is directed to the characters. I enjoyed the way the parents look so haggard from taking care of three little girls. The first scene is most believable. I felt like I was in that car: everyone appears to be melting like a popsicle, children are screaming or crying in the backseat, while Michel and Claire are eventually reduced to silence because they know they are slaves to the situation. Because the family of interest looks like a family one can pick off the highway, they are accessible to us. So when the strange man enters the equation, we cannot help but wonder how or if we would have handled things differently.

Harry is nicely played by López because his character is difficult to read. There are times when I was convinced that he is not who he says he is and other instances I wondered if my initial assumptions were wrong. It is possible that he is such a seasoned liar that he considers his fabrications as reality. People like that exist and so whenever he speaks or does anything, I was determined to catch him making a mistake. However, once his true intention is revealed halfway through, he becomes exponentially uninteresting. Instead of continuing to build him as an original character, the screenplay begins to treat him as an archetype of someone who is dangerously clingy.

The third act suffers from a lack of inspiration. Despite the fact that I enjoyed its almost downbeat mood, the escalation of music is often akin to nails on a chalkboard. The incongruity of mood and score takes us out of the experience instead of allowing us to ponder and appreciate the little ironies born from the bizarre convergence of two souls who have the growing need to express their repressed feelings.

“With a Friend Like Harry…,” directed by Dominik Moll, offers good performances and has a consistently interesting situation. However, it is disappointing that the title character’s development goes on autopilot eventually. So does the last third of the picture. Lastly, I wanted to see and know more about Claire. She starts to suspect that something is off about Harry. Seigner does her best to communicate Claire’s unease but, like Harry, the character comes off underwritten.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“El laberinto del fauno” or “Pan’s Labyrinth,” written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, is one of the most compelling pictures I’ve ever seen about the power of imagination. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) used her mind as an escape from several events that she could not fully understand and deal with: moving into a new home in a countryside surrounded by the Spanish guerilla, her mother’s (Ariadna Gil) decision to be with a cruel army captain (Sergi López), her mother’s illness along with having a new sibling and the war that was driving everyone around her into a state of conflict and madness. In her fantasy world, she was an underground princess trapped in a human body. In order to get back to her royal family, a faun (Doug Jones) informed her that she must complete three dangerous tasks. What I admired most about this movie was del Toro’s ability to show us a story seen through a child’s eyes but at the same time keeping the reality at an arm’s length. Although fantastic elements are abound, this film is definitely not for children due to the intense violence and sometimes unbearable emotional suffering. I couldn’t help but be impressed with the way the director weaved in and out and through the reality and fantasy of the story. Even though we get drastic changes of scenery with each mission that Ofelia decided to take part in, tension was something we could not escape. I loved the spy/mother-figure played by Maribel Verdú. She just had this strength that radiated from within which made her a key figure in Ofelia’s life because her bed-ridden mother could not protect her. Verdú’s scenes with the smart and venomous captain gave me the creeps; the looks he so often gave her made me believe that he knew what she was up to all along. Ever since it’s release, “Pan’s Labyrinth” gained great approval from both critics and audiences and deservingly so. A lot of people consider the film as a dark fairytale. While it is that, I believe it only highlights one dimension of this amazing work. (The words “dark fairytale” sounds more like a fantasy.) A large portion of this picture was about how Ofelia looked inwards in a time of need and turned things that she could not control into something she could. That is, the more the main character was forced to grow up due to the circumstances around her, the more she gained an internal locus of control. When fantasy and reality finally collided during a key scene in the end, it was very depressing yet magical–and that was when del Toro’s vision finally came full circle.

Dirty Pretty Things

Dirty Pretty Things (2002)
★★ / ★★★★

Written by Steven Knight and directed by Stephen Frears, “Dirty Pretty Things” is about two illegal immigrants (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou) who work in a fancy hotel in London and get caught in an underground business run by their boss (Sergi López). This was supposed to be a thriller but I didn’t find anything particularly thrilling about it. I think it tried too hard to hide its secret underground happenings to the point where I found myself not knowing where the story was going. After it introduced particular events that could potentially drive the plot forward, it was followed by uneventful fifteen- to twenty-minutes. One of the few things I liked about it, however, was the way it showed illegal immigrants in the work place. While It was an effective drama, it considerably weaker in its thriller aspect. A third variable was the potential romance between Ejiofor and Tautou. It’s strange because I don’t know what to think of it. They didn’t exactly have chemistry together but it was nice to see them interact either when they were just talking or were sitting in silence. Overall, I think this film was misdirected and miscast. Not to mention it tried way too hard to inject various storylines; it made me feel like it simply did not have enough courage to tackle the main issue head-on. If it had focused on the underground activities that not many people know about, I think I would have been more interested. With two main characters who were easy to root for, if they had been placed in more dangerous situations, the script would’ve popped instead of imploding upon itself. I’ve heard a number of critiques regarding this picture and more than half of them were impressed with the “surprise” ending. Personally, I wasn’t that surprised because it was not particularly original. I’ve seen such an ending from a lot of similar but better films so I was not at all impressed. It left me unsatisfied but I was glad to see Tautou play someone who was a little more damaged and vulnerable than her other roles.