INTERVIEW: The Trouble With "Harry"; Dominik Moll's Hitchcockian Skill

by Anthony Kaufman/indieWIRE

(indieWIRE/ 04.18.01) -- Some films have "the money shot." Dominik Moll's "Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien" ("With a Friend like Harry") has "the egg shot." The German-born, French director fashioned a sequence around the image of an egg that begins with terror, edges towards comedy and concludes with erotic temptation all in a matter of seconds. At last year's Cannes Film Festival, the scene, as well as the crowd-pleasing, superbly crafted thriller it was a part of, wowed audiences and caused Miramax to quickly acquire the pic for U.S. release (coming to New York this Friday, and wider markets next week).

Beginning with a spine-tingling sense of tension, the film follows repressed family man Michel (Laurent Lucas), along with his wife Claire (Mathilde Seigner) and their three infant daughters as they head to their remote summer cottage in the countryside. At a pit stop in a gas station bathroom, Michel meets the eerily amiable Harry (Sergi Lopez, "An Affair of Love") a childhood classmate who comes along to the vacation home with his plum, voluptuous fiancé, Plum (Sophie Guillemin, "L'Ennui"). Soon, Harry is bestowing expensive gifts, preaching virility and pushing Michel away from his family with advice like "excess is the only way to fulfillment."

Echoing French master Claude Chabrol or Moll's admitted favorite director, Alfred Hitchcock, the film's small, humorous details, weigh heavily with hints of doom (the daughter's incessant cries for a lollypop, Harry's perfect memory for a poem Michel wrote in high school). And Lopez's Harry is filled with gentle menace, a tour-de-force performance that is not to be missed. Named one of Variety's 10 Directors to Watch, Moll has fashioned a near-brilliant second feature. At last year's Toronto Film Festival, indieWIRE's Anthony Kaufman spoke briefly with the director about genre, Chabrol, and the egg.

"As soon as you shoot something in an extreme close-up and then you see it on the huge screen, it gives an almost surreal effect."

indieWIRE: There's been much talk about how your film blends genres, both comedy and thriller. How do you react to that?

Dominik Moll: I didn't really think about it in that way, about making a film that mixes genres. For me, it's a thriller. There is humor in it, but that doesn't make it a comedy.

iW: But the film started with the idea more of a family, rather than a thriller, yes?

Moll: It started with questions that I asked myself on what it meant to have a family, to be a father, how to handle that. So that was the starting point. As a young father, my everyday life was thrown into turmoil because of my two daughters. I was irritated and exhausted, and I realized that most of my friends were going through the same thing. So I wondered what would happen if a character suddenly came along who represented all of my doubts and frustrations and took them to their most extreme conclusions.

iW: Your last film, "Intimacy," had this outsider-character coming into a couple's life and wreaking havoc on the relationships?

Moll: It was more minimalist; it didn't have any murders or anything else in it. The two main characters were women, and it's the story of a young woman who lives with her husband, and she has a friend who doesn't like the husband, and so the friend introduces her to another man who eventually becomes her lover. And the girlfriend is always there, pushing the wife to leave her husband.

iW: Many of my favorite films have this dynamic -- Polanski's "Knife in the Water," Losey's "The Servant" -- what is it about that story that attracts you?

Moll: I don't know. It's never happened to me. I think it's just that from a dramatic point of view, it's an interesting situation. It's true that "Knife in the Water" is a film that I really like, because it builds up tension with very little elements.

iW: Were there other films that filtered into the making of "Harry"?

Moll: Probably some of Hitchcock filtered in, and "The Shining," and also a little bit of "Barton Fink." But it wasn't conscious. All those are films that I've seen and that I like. When you direct films yourself, all the things that you've seen come out in another way.

iW: Because the movie is French, how do you feel about Chabrol comparisons?

Moll: I'm not too happy about Chabrol comparisons, because I am not a big fan of his. I think that his films, most of the time, clearly deal with bourgeoisie from the provinces and they're often linked to that social milieu. And I often think it's a caricature of that. In my film, the character of Michel comes from a certain surroundings, but the problems that he has with his family are not linked to that surrounding. Poor and rich can have the same type of problems.

iW: Let's talk about some of the specific elements of the film. There's a lot of visual sexual innuendo in the film. The egg shot is just brilliant. How do you think that works?

Moll: The fact that I shot it in an extreme close-up -- as soon as you shoot something in an extreme close-up and then you see it on the huge screen, it gives an almost surreal effect. But that's basically it. Also, what works quite nicely is the color and texture of the eggshell is very similar to the color and texture of Plum's skin.

iW: Refresh my memory: how do we get to the egg?

Moll: We have the scene where Harry is driving in the car and screaming. It's speeding up and shaking and then it turns black. Then you see the opening of the fridge and then Michel in close-up and then the tight close-up of the eggs. Then, there's a tight close-up of Michel's eyes and then again, you have the eggs in extreme close-up, and then you dissolve to Plum's sleeping face.

iW: It's very constructed.

"I need more experience before making a film in another country and in a different production system. I know some European directors that made their first film and it was a success, and they went directly off to the U.S. and made a film that was a disaster."

Moll: I like that completely visual sequencing. What's fascinating for me in terms of filmmaking is that you can create very strong effects with very simple methods. All these things work to help the story.

iW: Sergi Lopez is extremely good. In previous movies, Lopez has sort of played the nice guy and he wasn't even your first pick for the role. How did you end up with him?

Moll: I didn't have any first choice for the parts. For each part, I looked at lots of actors and actresses, with whom I did screen tests. In the beginning, I was a bit reluctant about Sergi, because of his Spanish accent, because I thought it was strange that someone who was in high school in France would still have a Spanish accent. But finally, when I met him and did a screen test with him, I thought he was fabulous. And nobody ever made a remark about the accent.

iW: But you use his Spanishness.

Moll: In the most dramatic moments, he falls back into Spanish, yes. Sergi's affability brings a huge amount to the part. I don't like films where there's a bad guy and a good guy, and it becomes very predictable. I'm not interested in doing that. And Sergi was able to take Harry to a disturbing place, without losing the sincerity I wanted.

iW: How have your dealings with Miramax been?

Moll: At Cannes, they asked me if I'd be interested in making a film in the U.S. I would be interested, but I think it's too soon to do it now. I feel that I need more experience before making a film in another country and in a different production system. I feel there is a danger to it. I know there are some European directors that made their first film and it was a success, and they went directly off to the U.S. and made a film that was a disaster.

iW: So do you have a new script?

Moll: Not yet. I'm not the kind of guy who has ten scripts in his drawers and just has to pull out the next one. And I didn't have time with the promotion around this film, to sit down and start writing the next script.