Patrice Leconte is in a light but thoughtful mood in "My Best Friend," a buddy movie that actually ponders the nature of what it is to be a buddy. Wide international and Stateside releases look assured for this well-turned adult comedy, and could even bring in new fans for Leconte.

Patrice Leconte is in a light but thoughtful mood in “My Best Friend,” a buddy movie that actually ponders the nature of what it is to be a buddy. Deriving a compact tale from Olivier Dazat’s story with his regular screenwriting pal Jerome Tonnerre, Leconte finds substance in the formulaic premise of a man who bets he can prove he has a best friend — even though he has none. Wide international and Stateside releases look assured (starting with a December Gaul opening) for this well-turned adult comedy, and could even bring in new fans for Leconte.

Francois (Daniel Auteuil) runs a Paris antique dealer biz with partner Catherine (Julie Gayet), who’s concerned about their mounting debts. Francois appears to be all business, first seen attending the funeral of a competitor for the sole purpose of making a deal on some furniture. Noted for his haughty attitude, stealing clients from other dealers and a tendency to value things over people, Francois is chided by associates at his birthday party for having no friends.

Catherine challenges him to serve up his best friend in person in the remaining 10 days of the month, or he must give her a pricey Greek vase he’s just purchased.

Auteuil, in a role that can be considered a significant stretch for an actor who’s so naturally ingratiating, plays Francois as a man outwardly assured but inwardly in a fog. Personal matters escape him; his stabs at seeking out a best pal are nearly satiric.

Francois meets loquacious taxi driver Bruno (Dany Boon), whom he recruits to help in the fine art of making friends.

It may be a touch obvious where this is heading, but Leconte and Tonnerre create real interest by crafting a thoughtful but airy entertainment while inserting a sense of sadness about the lives of fundamentally lonely men. Bruno notes that being friendly with everyone is the same as having no real friends.

For all its clever plotting (including a terrific bit involving the real Greek vase and a fake), “My Best Friend” is certain to make amused auds consider their own lives and friends. It’s perhaps too easy to conclude that this is minor Leconte, since the pic leaves behind as human a touch as “Intimate Strangers,” “Man on the Train” or “The Hairdresser’s Husband” — some of helmer’s previous films centered on pairings of distinctly different individuals.

The effect of casting Auteuil as Francois allows the viewer to accept his character flaws as he strains to find a friend. Boon suggests a bright man with a life unfulfilled, who emerges as one of the most touching Everyman characters in recent French cinema.

Support is tops, including the cool Gayet, Julie Durand as Francois’ sickly daughter and Henri Garcin as a wealthy collector with his eye on the vase.

As always with Leconte, the widescreen image is used (by lenser Jean-Marie Dreujou) to get close to his characters while allowing space for elegant mise en scene. Joelle Hache’s editing and Ivan Maussion’s detailed production design fortify every scene, but Xavier Demerliac’s circus-like score is badly judged.

My Best Friend

France

Production

A Wild Bunch release (in France)/Christal Films release (in Canada) of a Fidelite Films/TF1 Films Prod./Lucky Red production in association with Wild Bunch. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier. Directed by Patrice Leconte. Screenplay, Jerome Tonnerre, Leconte; story, Olivier Dazat.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Jean-Marie Dreujou; editor, Joelle Hache; music, Xavier Demerliac; production designer, Ivan Maussion; costume designer, Annie Perier Bertaux; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), Paul Laine; supervising sound editor, Francis Wargnier; assistant director, Hubert Engammare; casting, Gerard Moulevrier. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Gala), Sept. 11, 2006. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Francois - Daniel Auteuil Bruno - Dany Boon Catherine - Julie Gayet Louise - Julie Durand
With: Jacques Mathou, Marie Pillet, Elizabeth Bourgine, Henri Garcin, Jacques Spiessser.
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