Chance encounters are key in Patrice Leconte's movies. In The Girl on the Bridge, the French director paired a beautiful stranger (about to jump into the Seine) with a melancholy knife-thrower - the result was magic. In The Man on the Train, a poet and a thief meet; their lives become entwined. In Intimate Strangers, a distraught woman mistakenly enters an accountant's office, thinking he's her new therapist, and reveals her deepest secrets.
My Best Friend, which stars The Girl on the Bridge's Daniel Auteuil, isn't top-of-the-line Leconte, but even middling Leconte has most of Hollywood beat. And once again, it's the (mis)matching of people of vastly different backgrounds that gets things going. Auteuil's Francois is a successful Parisian antiques dealer with a business partner, an ex-wife and a coterie of folks he considers his friends. So it comes as a shock to learn that nobody likes him: He's aloof, self-centered, and doesn't get what friendship is about.
His partner, Catherine (Julie Gayet), bets him that he doesn't even have a friend - someone who knows his history, his quirks. Francois, defensively, insists he does. And so a deadline is set: Deliver a best friend within 10 days, or a rare Greek vase Francois acquired is hers.
It's a shaky premise, and not altogether believable (even as an indifferent snob, Auteuil is charming), but so My Best Friend goes, as Francois recruits an affable cabbie, Bruno (Dany Boon), whose taxi he happened to hail, to be his pal. Bruno is misled by Francois, who tries to put one over on Catherine, and so on.
My Best Friend, not surprisingly, is about what it means to have friends - and not to have them, to be alone. It's about connection, about trust and vulnerability. That Leconte's little film is a mild-mannered farce, makes the heartache funny, but really, this is serious stuff.
My Best Friend *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Patrice Leconte. With Daniel Auteuil and Dany Boon. Distributed by IFC Films. In French with subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 34 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz Five
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/stevenrea.