Mon Meilleur Ami (My Best Friend)

By Genna Rivieccio

In every culture, friendship is one of the most subjective concepts. The latest film from French writer-director Patrice Leconte, Mon Meilleur Ami, ponders the notion of what it means to be a friend and, more accurately, how difficult it is not just to come across as a genuine and sincere person, but to actually be one as well.

Daniel Auteuil (who rivals Gerard Depardieu for the most frequently used French actor) plays Francois Coste, a wealthy antiques collector whose priorities have been skewed by a long-standing compulsion for accumulating possessions. His business partner Catherine points out, as tactlessly as possible, that Francois has absolutely no friends to speak of. Francois, determined to prove otherwise, makes a bet that he will introduce her to his best friend within a period of ten days or surrender an ancient Greek vase worth two hundred thousand euros. It does not take long for Francois to discover that Catherine is right: Everyone he has ever met views him as selfish, inconsiderate, and snide. Childhood friends, business contacts, even his own daughter, are appalled by his cursory existence.

Oddly, Francois is not so much upset about being utterly alone in the world as he is about the prospect of losing the bet and his cherished vase along with it. After several chance run-ins with a hapless taxi driver named Bruno, Francois observes his innate ability to relate with people and make each individual feel as though they are being listened to. Desperate to unearth the secret to making friends, Francois enlists Bruno to show him the ropes of becoming a part of the human race.

Using Bruno's naivete to achieve his own ends, Francois drains him of all information pertaining to the gift of social grace. So mechanical is Francois that he even attempts to boil the idea of friendship down to a mnemonic formula: SSS (smile, sympathy, sincerity). Nonetheless, Francois' efforts to make friends under the tutelage of Bruno are in vain. Everyone can see through Francois's guise of caring and nobility. Still, Francois does not understand why he cannot be more like Bruno, a friend to everyone. Bruno corrects, “Everyone is the same as no one. Trust me, we're all alone.” 

As Francois begins to give up on friendship, he is struck by the fact that Bruno, of all people, is his best friend. Francois has been on autopilot for so long, it is infeasible for him to reconcile how to be someone's friend without taking advantage of him. It is at this point in the film that the theme begins to come to fruition. Here is a man who has spent his entire life without any real friends, and yet he was never upset about it because he was conditioned by society to keep his head down and concentrate on the ever-so important business of amassing wealth.

There is an unmitigated air of sadness about the movie's message as it has become such an ordeal to find true friendship in this modern age of isolation and material lust. What is more, friendship has developed into an enterprise based on giving something to get something. How can we ever really be sure of someone's interest in getting to know a person without questioning his agenda Bruno fails to consider why Francois is suddenly so enthusiastic about being his best friend and is blind-sided when he finds Francois has stabbed him in the back just to win a bet. The definition of a friend has become so convoluted as a result of the emphasis we put on work and struggling to stay afloat financially.

Like other aspects of our lives, friends are compartmentalized into categories: The work friend, the casual acquaintance, the long distance friend, and the friends we spend our weekends with. Why is it such a novel idea to eliminate this form of segregation  The more “advanced” civilization becomes, the harder it is to get to know someone. The constant and never-ending race to the top prevents us from taking time out for building on interpersonal relationships.

Mon Meilleur Ami is an understated cry for change. It does not attempt to hit its viewer over the head with the message it indisputably conveys. With its humor and typical French pessimism, it gently suggests that we reconsider our priorities before it is too late.