Capturing the point of intersection between the conformity of adolescence and the independence that comes with maturity, Emmanuel Bourdieu’s Poison Friends is an intelligent and insightful, if oddly sterile and empirically rendered chronicle of academic life as seen through the perspective of a loose knit group of university-aged students at the transformative stage when they begin to break free from their mutualist – and inherent dysfunctional – alliances and the comfort zone of social circles and strike out on their own, metamorphosing from group identification to individual identity. The chaotic and seemingly dislocated opening sequence incisively sets the tone for the film as new student, a budding thespian named Alexandre (Alexandre Steiger), unintentionally draws unwanted attention to himself when he arrives late to class with his luggage in tow, creating such a distraction as he struggles to make his way up the stairs towards the back of the lecture hall that the professor singles him out for public castigation. It is an embarrassing episode that is soon mitigated by the sympathetic attention of a charismatic student named André Morney (Thibault Vinçon), the kind of rabid intellectual and perennial student with grandiose ideas on the sanctity and incorruptibility of art (even as he expresses open contempt for those who seek an outlet for creative expression) who has created his own insular dominion within the hallowed walls of the university (a sense of entitled territoriality that is also reinforced by his encroachment into Alexandre’s room to store his books). Soon, André becomes a figurative puppeteer of his own Grand Guignol, lording over the movements and decisions of his personally assembled cast of characters – Alexandre, Eloi Duhaut (Malik Zidi), the son of a famous (and recently scandal-plagued) novelist (Dominique Blanc), an aspiring writer named Thomas Blanchard, André’s lover Marguerite (Natacha Régnier), and even his faculty advisor and mentor Mortier (Jacques Bonnaffé) – seduced by his bravado, fierce intelligence, and uncompromising ideology on artistic creation, until his academic complacency, coupled with Eloi’s increasing attraction to Marguerite and Alexandre’s cultivated passion for the dramatic arts, threatens to wrest control over his elaborate, hermetic construction. Ironically, Bourdieu’s clinical and rigidly cerebral approach to the tale of the young friends’ intellectual coming of age itself serves as an appropriate reflection for André’s nebulous psychology and unresolved fate, illustrating not only the traumatic collision between the uncompromising, black and white world of youth and the realization of grey area, real-world compromises of adulthood, but also the inevitable estrangement that comes with the outgrowing of one’s hero or mentor, when the illusion of Pygmalion is broken and the venerated idol becomes all too human.
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