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CANNES 2006 Critics’ Week / France

Literary microcosm and evil friendships

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"Why do some people write? Because they don’t have enough character not to write". In exploring the possibilities of this quote by Austria’s Karl Kraus (1874-1936), French director Emmanuel Bourdieu paints an acerbic picture of privileged Parisian youth in his new film, Les amitiés maléfiques [+see also:
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(lit. “Evil Friendships”), at today’s opening ceremony of the Critics’ Week.

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This second feature by the son of renowned sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and writing partner of director Arnaud Desplechin (notably, Esther Kahn, 2000) is set in the world of literature students. Lecture halls, cafés, libraries, residence halls, parties and night-time strolls – the film has all the classical scenes from Paris’ Latin Quarter with, as its backdrop, unrestrained conversations on Maeterlinck, Racine, Fitzgerald, Kafka, Aristophanes, Georges Sand, Faulkner and James Ellroy, among others.

However, this small theatre of a certain social class in the French capital, with its publishing intrigues and settlings of scores intersected by book discussions, reveals an analysis of the destructive psychological power of a strong personality on its surroundings.

Compared indirectly to Nero and now a sort of guru for the drab Eloi (Malik Zidi) and Alexandre (Alexandre Steiger), André (Thibault Vinçont) the radical, secretly jealous intellectual, upsets, mistreats and deceives them through perverse manipulations until one day he is unmasked and his deception is revealed.

Exiled in the army, the former idol sees his two disciples freed and famous. Using what is left of his power, he nevertheless follows them to the bitter end, leaving them by uttering an unusual comment that opens possibilities for a metaphorical reinterpretation of the whole film: "Pathetic and cowardly, you needed a master. I was always there, I am the oldest of men".

With fine supporting performances from Dominique Blanc, Jacques Bonnaffé and Natacha Régnier and a camera fond of close-ups and movements, Les Amitiés Maléfiques has not, however, won over audiences, with the screen adaptation of the book proving to be an arduous task.

Produced by 4 à 4 Productions, the film’s €2.27m budget included an advance on receipts of €450,000 from the CNC and €380,000 from the Ile de France region. The film will be distributed in France by Les Films du Losange, who are also handing international sales.

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(Translated from French)

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