Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
The film begins with an edgy casualness. One hot summer day, the 34-year-old Michel Pape, a good-looking teacher of French to Japanese students, is driving south from Paris in his clapped-out saloon with his sensible wife, Claire, and three fractious little daughters. Their destination is the dilapidated old farmhouse on the foothills of the Monts du Cantal that they’ve bought with the help of his overbearing dentist father and his querulous mother and are doing up a little at a time.
Like various Hitchcock characters, their lives are inviting intervention. In the men’s lavatory at a motorway café, a good-looking, slightly flashy man introduces himself to Michel as an old friend he’s not met for 20 years and who remembers their schooldays in astonishing detail. This stranger by a drain is called Harry Balestrero…
Harry, like Bruno in Strangers on a Train, is idle, aesthetically poised and independently wealthy, having inherited large sums from a despised father. Accompanied by his simple, sexy, patronised girlfriend, he insinuates himself into the lives of Michel, Claire and their children, sensing faultlines in their relationships and creating new ones. It begins with lollies for the kids, a lift in his air-conditioned Mercedes and a flattering concern for Michel having given up on the literary career that seemed to lie before him as a precocious schoolboy.
Harry’s one of those people who knows more about you than you know yourself and is solicitous to an embarrassing degree. He believes ‘every problem has a solution’ and sets about reorganising Michel’s life with advice and manipulative acts. Because Michel and Claire don’t present a united front, he’s able to become a murderous cuckoo in their nest.
As with Hitchcock and Fritz Lang, there’s a deadly logic in the way one act leads plausibly to another on the escalator of will and desire, and with considerable subtlety Moll draws us into Harry’s scheming mind. In the way he coolly thinks the unthinkable, Harry is as insidious and seductive as Patricia Highsmith’s psychopathic Tom Ripley.
Harry, He’s Here to Help is superbly performed by its central quartet, and by the actors playing Michel’s somewhat disagreeable parents and his louche brother. A profoundly disturbing work, it’s the best European movie in a Hitchcockian vein since George Sluizer’s The Vanishing and is made with a confident grace and ironic wit. — Philip French, The Observer, 12/11/00