Games People Play

What exactly does Harry want? Is he a con artist, a wife swapper, an insurance agent? (The answer turns out to be less complex than one might imagine.) Bizarrely supportive when not boasting about his sexual exploits with the compliant Plum, Harry appears to have committed all of Michel's schoolboy poems to memory and, in between lavish gifts, keeps bugging his host to give up his unproductive teaching job and resume writing. How long will it be before Harry is acting out Michel's repressed desires—or vice versa? Inspired by his new friend's obsessions, Michel does begin scribbling, staying up nights in the pink bathroom.

As the title With a Friend Like Harry . . . alludes to Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry, so Moll's movie takes something of its premise—or, rather, its set of expectations—from another Hitchcock, Strangers on a Train. The atmosphere of bourgeois bickering and longing is, however, more suggestive of Claude Chabrol. (A nice bit of nastiness: When Michel visits his parents, his dentist father immediately insists on examining his teeth.) Moll's style is low-key and straightforward. His blandly outrageous ending allows Michel to finally crack a smile.

The man who fell to earth: Turturro in The Luzhin Defense
photo: Mark Tillie
The man who fell to earth: Turturro in The Luzhin Defense


The Luzhin Defense
Directed by Marleen Gorris
Written by Peter Berry, from the novel by Vladimir Nabokov
Sony Pictures Classics
Opens April 20

With a Friend Like Harry . . .
Directed by Dominik Moll
Written by Moll and Gilles Marchand
Miramax Zoë
Opens April 20

Hidden Wars of Desert Storm
Directed by Gerard Ungerman and Audrey Brohy
The F.L.I.R. Project
Directed by Michael McNulty
Cinema Village
Opens April 20

Those with an interest in true crime should attend the pair of video documentaries opening this week at Cinema Village.

Pegged to the 10th anniversary of the Gulf War victory celebration, a fiesta that lasted nearly three times longer than the fighting itself, the 60-minute Hidden Wars of Desert Storm investigates the most significant Bush family operation before the 2000 Florida vote count. Directors Gerard Ungerman and Audrey Brohy reiterate the big question—why, in the months leading up to the crisis, was Iraq repeatedly assured that the U.S. had no security agreement with Kuwait?—and further suggest that the Bush administration deliberately misled the Saudis as to the magnitude of the Iraqi threat.

A useful demonstration of American military power as it might be applied without significant casualties in the post-Soviet era, Operation Desert Storm was ended prematurely when various anti-Saddam Hussein rebellions broke out and it seemed as though Iraq might disintegrate (presumably to the advantage of Iran). In any case, the filmmakers maintain, the war's basic objectives were achieved—namely, the creation of quasi-permanent American military bases in Saudi Arabia and huge arms sales to governments in the region—all at the expense of the Iraqi people. Having argued this case, the movie ends by considering the malign effect of battlefield uranium weapons on the U.S. soldiers who served in the Gulf.

Moving from foreign affairs to the domestic sphere, The F.L.I.R. Project—a shorter, more concentrated film—returns to the scene of the crime in Waco and uses the analysis of infrared video to argue that, all protestation to the contrary, FBI gunmen took aim at the Branch Davidians trying to escape their burning compound. Do the tapes show "glint" or gunfire? Michael McNulty devotes most of his film to debunking the official re-creation of the incident as part of the cover-up. The close reading of the evidence is both stupefyingly labored and persuasive—a secondary mystery is the filmmaker's decision to score his revelations with a porn-style musical loop.

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