On American shores, Patrice Leconte is known for sumptuous period films like the Oscar-nominated “Ridicule” (2004) or sophisticated, talky arthouse dramas like “Intimate Strangers” (2004). In his native France, however, the director has moved fluidly between serious fare and crowd-pleasers like his beloved 70s “Les Bronzés” vacation comedies, which he recently revisited with a third installment, “Friends Forever.” His latest film, “My Best Friend,” isn’t such a change of pace, then the lighthearted comedy finds gratingly self-centered Parisian antiques dealer François (Daniel Auteuil) challenged by his exasperated business partner to produce a best friend by the end of the month. François accepts the bet, only to discover that not only does he not have friends, but most of his day-to-day acquaintances barely tolerate him. It’s not until he stumbles upon a cheery, trivia-loving cab driver named Bruno (Dany Boon) that he begins to comprehend what friendship actually is.
In the press notes you say that you are no longer interested in making serious films. What brought that about?
I have never taken myself very seriously, but I have always taken my work seriously. And more and more I have come to believe that it’s possible to tell profound and serious things with an appearance of lightness. Lightness is always or often considered a defect we say this person is light or this work is light. As far as I’m concerned, I’d really like people to refer to my body of work as light. I think that would be a compliment, because the time we are living in is quite heavy. It’s weighing on us so we might as well create light works. I just prefer uplifting people rather than weighing them down.
You’ve been a proponent of films being enjoyable as well as having artistic weight. Have you ever come up against resistance to that? As you say, it can be looked down upon when a film is entertaining.
You know, a few years ago, I did have a little tug of war with the critics who said my work was light, but I don’t want to go there anymore. It’s true that having the ambition of being popular or an artist that has a wide audience appeal is a very bad position from the point of view of criticism, but I really don’t care. My sole ambition, and it is an ambitious one, is to make films that I like and that I am proud of and that fill the cinema up and that people enjoy. It’s impossible to have any more satisfying ambition than this, in my opinion.
With this film and your last two you’ve focused on the idea of two strangers meeting by chance and making a deep connection. Why does this scenario hold such an appeal to you?
I don’t do it on purpose, but I do really love the notion of meeting and the word “meeting.” It’s really something that’s close to me. It’s a magical word because to be open to meeting someone and interested in them and so forth means that you’re open to the world, and that is something that is very common to all three of these films.
There’s a sense in the film that you surround yourself with a circle of acquaintances, and it becomes very difficult to break out and meet someone new. Do you see that a particular aspect of modern living?
Yes, it is a characteristic of modern life, but it’s also a characteristic of living in an urban setting. I think that more and more in this time we are living in, people are communicating with each other in all forms and possible ways, but are really falling back on themselves and in the end care only about themselves it’s really terrible. And I think this factor of no longer having or creating basic communication in our daily activities is something that’s picking up speed and it really frightens me it chills me. So I try to communicate ideas, emotions, notions that are simple but try to uplift towards the positive rather than the negative.
You’ve set this search for a best friend in very sophisticated urban crowd it’s a source of the comedy that someone in this very Parisian circle is on the lookout for a best friend. One rarely talks about having a best friend as an adult.
When I was writing the script I was afraid that the notion of Paris might not work because it sort of seemed almost absurd. I was afraid, for such a realistic film as this, that François’ naiveté when he says “I am going to find a best friend in ten days” wouldn’t work. We couldn’t say that to one another “I am going to show you my best friend in ten days” it wouldn’t work, in the same way you can’t say “How much do you bet that I will fall in love by the end of the day?” I think it works because of Daniel Auteuil’s talent, this teetering on the limits of credibility, [in portraying] François’ as convinced that he has so many friends, that he takes this crazy bet.
In the film you play with the conventions of a romance in portraying the friendship of Bruno and François. Was that your inspiration, a platonic romance between these two men?
I have thought for a long time that friendships and love stories have a lot of common points. It’s true that their discovery of this friendship which they have between them goes through all these different emotions and does come close to feelings of love. [laughs] But I don’t think they get together.
“My Best Friend” opens in limited release on July 13th (official site).