Harry He's Here to Help

France 2000

Reviewed by Chris Darke


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

France, the present. Michel and Claire, a young married couple, set off on holiday with their three daughters. Stopping at a service station, Michel meets Harry who insists they were at school together. Harry and his girlfriend Plum offer to take the children with them in their jeep. They arrive at Michel's holiday home, which he is renovating. Harry recites a poem which Michel wrote for his school magazine and insists his host has a great gift. Harry and Plum stay overnight.

The following day, Claire is shopping when the family car breaks down. Harry offers her a lift; en route, he buys the couple a jeep. When Michel's parents visit, Harry and Plum book into a hotel. That night, Harry engineers the deaths of Michel's parents in a car accident. Harry accompanies Michel to his parents' flat where he spies on him as he reads the school journal he once wrote for. Eric, Michel's brother, arrives; when he mocks Michel's poem, Harry kills him and hides his body in his car boot.

Although Claire tells Harry to stop visiting, he and Plum arrive at the holiday home; a row ensues during which Michel insults Plum. That night, while starting work on a story, Michel discovers that Plum has been bludgeoned to death. Michel finds Harry in the house and helps him dispose of the body. Harry gives Michel a knife and offers to help him kill off his family. Michel stabs Harry and buries him in the garden. The family leave the next day.


The trouble with Harry is that its basic premise - a charming sociopath inveigles his way into a stable relationship and wreaks havoc - is almost threadbare from overuse. From Strangers on a Train (1951) to 80s yuppie-nightmare movies such as Fatal Attraction, the friendly stranger whose warm smile disguises fiendish intentions is a familiar fixture of the psychological thriller. In his second feature Harry He's Here to Help, Dominik Moll flags his intertextual awareness from the start, giving Harry Balestrero, his eponymous interloper, the same surname as Henry Fonda's character in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1956).

But one of the triumphs of Moll's black comedy is the way it absorbs its many influences and makes them its own. Harry first meets Michel, the family man on holiday whom he claims to have known at school, in the public toilets of a motorway service station. The scene is reminiscent of the opening moments of George Sluizer's The Vanishing, which took place in a similarly anonymous setting. But where Sluizer's movie was a tense, unsettling horror, Moll's film turns into a neat parable on the costs of creativity. Shooting the scene against mirrors, Moll films Michel's reflection, hinting that Harry is as much a projection of Michel's desires and fears, his hidden id in friendly form, as a chameleon-like charmer able to adapt to changing environments as Matt Damon's character did in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Played by the Catalan actor Sergi López (known in the UK for his roles in Manuel Poirier's Western and Frédéric Fonteyne's Une liaison pornographique), Harry is a chummy übermensch to Laurent Lucas' harassed young dad Michel; but he is also the ruthless 'other' Michel needs in order to write. Michel's childhood ambitions to be a writer have been set aside in the face of his mounting family responsibilities, whereas Harry is a free agent, wealthy, with a beautiful girlfriend, intent on dispensing what he believes to be his largesse. "Every problem has its solution" is both Harry's motto and his modus operandi. That Michel's published efforts, including a piece of adolescent doggerel and a sci-fi story about flying monkeys, are of dubious calibre doesn't deter Harry, who identifies the distractions to Michel's writing career and systematically eliminates them. The car-crash deaths of Michel's parents, the 'disappearance' of his brother and the suggestion that his wife and three daughters should follow suit are Harry's 'gifts' to Michel, bestowed on him in order that his old schoolfriend's writerly 'gift' can flourish. In this sense, the incongruously Lynchian bathroom, decorated in a pink as livid as flayed skin, that dominates the otherwise tumbledown house which Michel is renovating, becomes a weirdly fertile psychic space - a womb for the fictions that Harry believes Michel can still write.

A tale of a writer unwittingly striking a Faustian pact with a friendly but ruthless killer, Harry is most reminiscent of Barton Fink, although it's much less baroque. Moll's ruminations on what Barton Fink liked to call the "life of the mind" remain the subtext of the movie, skilfully alluded to, but rarely directly expressed (unlike in the Coens' film). His persistent exploration of otherwise ordinary objects is richly suggestive, from his use of bathroom mirrors to his symbolic riffs on the theme of fertility through repeated images of eggs. If Harry can be seen as an essay on the fear of fatherhood and its sacrifices - the pram in the hall versus the promise of the pen - its conclusion is straightforward: you have to break a few oeufs to make an oeuvre.


Dominik Moll
Michel Saint-Jean
Dominik Moll
Gilles Marchand
Director of Photography
Matthieu Poirot-Delpech
Yannick Kergoat
Production Designer
Michel Barthélémy
David Sinclair Whitaker
©Diaphana Films/
M6 Films/Diaphana Distribution
Production Companies
Diaphana Films presents a Diaphana Films/
M6 Films/Diaphana Distribution co-production
With the participation of Canal +/M6/
Centre National de la Cinématographie
In association with Sofinergie 5
With the support of Procirep
Production Manager
Eric Zaouali
Unit Production Manager
Clément Sentilhes
Unit Managers
Jérôme Albertini
Jérôme Poinson
Karim Aouille
Lysiane Biagini
Patrick Levasseur
Guillaume Noblet
Luc Bricault
Lionel Guerrini
Location Manager
Jérôme Portier
Post-production Supervisor
Sandrine Brauer
Artistic Adviser
Gilles Marchand
Assistant Directors
Rafaèle Ravinet-Virbel
Léonard Vindry
Script Supervisor
Anna Zenowicz
Antoinette Boulat
Constance Demontoy
Camera Operators
Claire Caroff
Stéphanie De Fenin
Wescam Operator
Tanguy Thuault
Digital Effects
Set Decorator
Boris Piot
Costume Designer
Virginie Montel
Isabelle Pannetier
Sylvie Aïd
Muriel Brot
Valérie Tranier
Key Hair
Laurent Blanchart
Title Design
Eric Martin
Music Performed by
The Pro Arte Orchestra of London
Ian Brown
Lead Violin:
Jonathan Rees
Music Editor
Thomas Desjonquères
Sound Engineer
Peter Cobbin
Music Consultant
Eric Michon
"Sonate No.5 pour Piano, KV 283" - Ian Brown
Sound Recording
François Maurel
Gérard Lamps
Mohamed Mourchid
Sound Editor
Gérard Hardy
Sound Effects
Gérard de Lagarde
Nicolas Becker
Sound Effects Recordist
Eric Ferret
Post-synchronization Engineer
Williams Schmit
Post-synchronization Recordists
Jean-Louis LeBras
Marie-Françoise Coquelet
Monkey Trainer
Fauna & Films
Pierre Cadéac
Helicopter Pilot
François Duplenne
Laurent Lucas
Sergi López
Harry Balestrero
Mathilde Seigner
Sophie Guillemin
Liliane Rovère
Dominique Rozan
Michel Fau
Victoire de Koster
Laurie Caminita
Loréna Caminita
Artificial Eye Film Company
10,505 feet
116 minutes 43 seconds
Dolby Digital
In Colour
2.35:1 [Panavision]
French theatrical title
Harry Un ami qui vous veut du bien
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011