May 10, 2011

DVD Review: My Friend From Faro [15]

Dir: Nana Neul
Though it's hardly mainstream, the lesbian coming of age movie has, in recent years, become a familiar part of the cinematic landscape, and as such it has laid down many of its own standard forms and clichés, so you have to credit début writer/director Nana Neul for trying to do something at least a little different from the usual coming out story.

The film centres on closeted tomboy Melanie (Anjorka Strechel), who meets Jenny (Lucie Hollmann) after almost running her over. Jenny assumes that Mel is a boy, and Mel, attracted, plays along, claiming to be from Portugal and named Miguel. At the same time, challenged to bring her new boyfriend; Miguel, from Portugal, to a family dinner, Mel hires a co-worker (Manuel Cortez) to pose as Miguel. You can pretty much guess that these lies lead to a lot of confusion and heartache for all concerned.

The obvious touchstone for My Friend From Faro is Boys Don't Cry, or rather the real story of Teena Brandon before the events of that film. Like Brandon, Melanie poses as a boy in order to seduce a straight girl, but in this fictional context it is harder to sympathise with Melanie. The main reason is that we know throughout that Jenny is 14, and though she's told Melanie that she's 16, she looks and seems very much younger, which gives a creepy vibe to the relationship (compounded both by the deception it is built on and by a late revelation about Melanie's age). While it's easy to understand why Melanie lies to Jenny, it's harder to see why she lies to her family and invents a fictional boyfriend, there doesn't seem to be any pressure on her to be 'normal', at least not beyond the fact that they assume she's straight, and while the scenes with Melanie's family are well played, there is little inherent drama to them, as there seem to be no stakes.

On the plus side, the performances are uniformly good, with leads Strechel - who convinces physically as an androgynous figure who could be taken for a handsome young man - and Hollmann both committed and impressive, as hard as it is to really invest in their relationship, you do believe their investment in it. There is also a quickly built but convincing brother/sister relationship between Strechel and Florian Panzner, and an appealing performance from Manuel Cortez as Mel's Portugese co-worker/fictional boyfriend.

Beyond a creative title sequence, Nana Neul doesn't do anything flashy as a director. She keeps the focus largely on her actors, and is served well by their performances. She does, however, develop a few subtle things with her blocking and visuals, notably a close relationship between Jenny and her friend Bianca, which seems to hint at a deeper desire on Bianca's part. There are only a couple of really active scenes in the film, and Neul fumbles both. The car crash and a chase towards the end of the film both play almost completely in reactions, and feel slipshod in terms of both shooting and editing, but at the end of the day these are small problems, and the film's focus is on relationships and conversation, which are well handled by the director.

On the whole, My Friend From Faro is a mixed bag; it's well performed, but hard to connect to, and despite its undoubted qualities and several very good scenes (the family dinner with Melanie's fake boyfriend; Jenny, Bianca and Melanie's night out and Jenny and Melanie's date at the beach all stand out), it ends up feeling a bit inconsequential, especially as it ends on a very open note, but one that doesn't - unlike, say, the ending of Fucking Amal - leave you anxious to know what happened after that last cut to black. There are good things here, and I'll be keeping an eye on both Anjorka Strechel and Lucie Hollmann, but My Friend From Faro doesn't quite come together.

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