Poison Friends may be set in the old-world literary confines of a Paris university, but the seductive-diabolical notion of friendship so nimbly sketched here may well ring a bell. Charming, amoral André (Thibault Vinçon) presides over a group of fellow grad students as the dazzlingly assured whizkid, admired, begrudged, loved, and hated. Everybody in this ambitious young circle, which includes a serious aspiring actor and the talented, reserved son of a famous writer, puts up with his tough love and manipulative dramas.
Director Emmanuel Bourdieu, who’s co-written screenplays with Arnaud Desplechin, doesn’t really flesh out this perfectly cast gallery of characters, but that’s not the point. Poison Friends is about a hothouse dynamic, an intense postadolescent moment of ego ruffling around a larger-than-life personality (epitomized by André’s search-and-destroy vigilance over his friends’ writing projects). André’s cruelty and comeuppance give a bottom-dropping-out frisson but he’s also a stand-in for the growing pains of a phase. The group is prodded by not only his ideals but, truth be told, their own.