My Friend From Faro

***1/2

Reviewed by: David Graham

Writer/director Nana Neul's film debut is a gentle, sweet-natured romance, with more serious underlying themes always lurking in the corners. Anjorka Strechel makes a strong impression as Mel, an androgynous girl whose family are constantly enquiring about her relationship status. She plays along with their prying, making up stories about boys that may even be fooling herself. When a charismatic foreigner starts at her work, she finds it hard to hide her initial fascination. Their very tentative friendship soon becomes something of a business liaison, when an out-of-place Mel is mistaken for a boy by pretty teen Jenny. Mel finds herself slipping into roleplay, adopting the guise of her new friend from Faro, who is more than happy to accept favors in turn for furnishing her with further details to flesh out the character; Mel also demands he pose as her boyfriend in front of her pestering family. With the web of mistaken identity spinning and spreading out of control, it's only a matter of time before someone's heart is broken.

A familiar premise is enlivened here by some surprising developments and committed performances from all involved. It's easy to see why Mel would gravitate towards Manuel Cortez; he exudes effortless cool, but also offers a convincingly warm, brotherly affection to her as his involvement in her situation increases. Similarly, Lucie Hollmann gives Jenny's flirty teenybopper a pleasing amount of depth, unfulfilled with her shallow friends and helplessly drawn towards this mysterious young man from another place. The film discreetly tiptoes around her suspicions (if she has any), and as they grow more intimate Neul's subtlety makes the longing in their encounters totally tangible. She also nails Mel's neuroses, highlighting the crushing comedown she suffers every time she has to return to her own reality.

Some restrained stylistic flourishes work well, such as a hugely meaningful opening shot of an upside down plane taking off. There is also a wistful sense of how this romantic summer will be something Mel looks back on all her life; the shots of nature and the countryside are often effortlessly gorgeous, in juxtaposition to the faceless parking lots and sterile neighbourhoods where she drowns her sorrows and takes flak from callous youths.

There is an undeniable whiff of kids' TV drama to many scenes, especially those involving more than a couple of people. The sparing use of music and uncluttered sound design always keep the audience engaged though, Neul refusing to let things slide into melodrama as the plot contrivances mount around the bewildered characters.

The film suffers somewhat in comparison to the similar but more accomplished Show Me Love, Lukas Moodyson's lovely coming-of-age drama. My Friend From Faro does deal with its issues more maturely however, refusing to flinch when it comes to portraying how difficult it can be for sexually confused individuals to face the truth of their own feelings as well as how they are perceived by others. It's also a good deal less sensationalist than Kimberley Pierce's undeniably powerful true-life tale Boys Don't Cry, ending on a mature note of hope and acceptance a million miles away from that film's crushingly bleak climax. It's the sort of film that doesn't do anything particularly new, or even anything especially well, but it does have a lot of heart and soul, and deserves to be seen by a wider audience than it will probably find outwith its own country. Boys and girls, gay or straight, young and old, will all be able to relate to Mel's self-inflicted troubles, and the nicely ambiguous coda should warm the hearts of even the most jaded viewer.

Reviewed on: 18 May 2011
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Androgynous Mel adopts a new identity based on a charismatic boy she meets, which complicates her tentative romance with a pretty girl.
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Director: Nana Neul

Starring: Anjorka Strechel, Lucie Hollmann, Manuel Cortez, Florian Panzner

Year: 2010

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany

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