The motives for telling a lie are rarely the same from one episode to the next. Fear of shame, fear of persecution, selfishness, desire to reach an objective that otherwise would fall out of one’s grasp, there are more than a few very human and imperfect reasons why one would deliberately omit the truth. There is such a thing as a white lie however, by which the truth is kept hidden in preference of fabrication in order to not harm another’s feelings. What happens when white lies are told to someone whose personal pet peeve is the practice of lying itself? Directors Stéphan Archinard and François Prévôt-Leygonie use that very idea as the inspiration for their drama-comedy, Amitiés sincères.
Walter Orsini (Gérard Lanvin) is a middle aged man living the Paris’ 14th arrondissement with his 20 year old university student daughter Clémence (Ana Girardot). He lives a busy life as the manager of an upper class restaurant, managing his daughter’s life with the difficult help of his ex-wife (Zabou Breitman) but also for how he always, always needs to know what is happening in the lives of his family and friends Paul (Jean-Hugues Anglade), a washed up author, and Jacques (Wladimir Yordanoff), a bookstore owner. Because of a lie his father once told him when still a child, Walter loathes nothing more in the world than when people withhold the truth. Little does he know however that Paul and Clémence are madly in love with each other despite their striking age difference and Jacques is a closet homosexual. What Walter does not know cannot hurt him, right?
Adapted from the play of the same name and written by the same directing duo, Amitiés sincères comfortably sets a tone that mixes drama and comedy in very mature fashion. Emphasis is put more on the former than the latter, a decision which ends up serving the film surprisingly well for a plausible story on the importance of honesty amongst friends and family and how said friendships cope both with startling revelations and the emotionally murky domain of telling lies so as to not hurt a loved one. The premise itself could easily play as a barrel of laughs in any other film where characters withholding shocking truths find themselves in increasingly far fetched, exaggerated situations where their ability to hold their ground is tested to its limits. Directors Archinard and Prévôt-Leygonie, instead of aiming primarily for laughs, smartly present the story in as straight a manner as possible, therefore anchoring the picture’s tone in some sense of reality. The result is a movie that feels like a drama first, a comedy second.
Ironically enough, that very tactic is what makes the funnier moments all the more potent. Walter’s obsessive compulsive nature as a father and a friend has him speak in the most obnoxious ways whenever another character merely disagrees with an opinion or a course of action. Some of his smirky remarks are quite laughable and the overall effect of his loud mouthed behaviour on others around him will also, occasionally, produce appropriately funny results. In an attempt to compare what Archinard and Prévôt-Leygonie have created, the film’s tone is akin to many of the terrific South Korean efforts which have been exported the world over since the beginning of the previous decade. When a funny moment occurs, it comes as unexpected yet still organically out of the circumstances of a scene.
Amitiés sincères is equally compelling for how it explores how multi-layered lying can be. After all, it takes at least two people for a lie to exist, the individual telling the lie and another being lied to. This movie puts as much emphasis on the gut wrench that affects both parties in the case of white lies, a concept which is greatly accentuated by the fact that Walter has a pathological hatred for the act itself. Clémence, Paul and Jacques all feel bad about hiding truths from someone they hold dear to their hearts, yet Walter does not help things with his growly, often antagonistic mannerisms. Because of his opinions on certain matters honesty does not, in fact, seem like the best policy. Even the parties falsifying facts are not entirely honest with one another, adding an entirely different dimension to the dynamics between them.
The film proved to be a smashing box office success in its home country and it is easy to understand why. Amitiés sincères is a well constructed movie about a topic that everybody knows all too well because everyone has engaged in the act of lying, even white lies. It is about one of the most recognizable flaws in human nature, why it is exercised and how. Anybody can relate and if a person says they cannot, they are lying.