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FRIENDS, which was written, produced, and directed by former M.I.T. student Filippe Herba, is well worth seeing because it says a great deal about the good and bad points of student films. Students who get into films come from primarily two backgrounds-drama and visual studies-and a student's experience frequently determines the approach he will use in his film. Friend's shows the director's clear talent as a photographer, but emphasizes the visual aspects of the film at the expense of its theatrical aspects. The weak script is almost used as an excuse for using the camera.
The film proves that students can shoot a good hour-long, black and white, one-reeler and can shoot one with relatively little expense. The lighting is used effectively throughout the film and is especially impressive in the day-to-night transitions. The angles used are carefully thought out and yet are not so artsy that they intrude upon the viewer's appreciation of the film. This taste for successful angles is coupled with a consistent awareness of composition. Attention to composition is especially apparent in shots of groups of two and three people.
This technical and visual success is hampered by the director's failure to direct the acting adequately. The film's drama lacks any real vitality. The dialogue is particularly weak and is given a sterile interpretation.
A director's failure to direct can be turned into a positive advatage. Godard, for example, gives his actors very little idea of what they are supposed to do, and yet his actors are known to prefer their roles in his films more than others. But to make non-directing an asset is extremely difficult. It demands not only a strong intuitive sense of the potentials of the actors, but also a clear abstract idea of what is wanted from them. Many established directors-Godard, Bunuel, Bresson-feel at a disadvantage using name actors, since they tend to have preconceived ideas of what they are supposed to do and therefore lack spontancity and authenticity.
Friends has several moments which benefit from minimal rehearsal and much ad libbing. Especially genuine is the party scene in which one intense student passionately berates, another for daring to attempt a mathematical solution to the universe. "You can't put anything into a black and white definition," he screa?ms and procceds to pour a bottle of alcohol over his opponent's head. In another scene, a kid asks a girl politely but firmly to remove all her clothes. She does so, and he leaves, explaining that he simply wanted to see her naked.
The dialogue is unfortunately incomprehensible in some parts when it competes with the unduly loud musical background. On the other hand, much of the music is well chosen and often, as with one piece by Thelonius Monk, coordinates perfectly with the mood evolved in the film.
The quick-paced ending of the film comes unexpectedly, since it follows two inordinately slow scenes of the protagonist walking in Boston and riding in a car. The length of these scenes leads the viewer to expect the film to taper to an end.
The film's plot, loosely patterned after The Cousins by Chabrol, is poorly handled. A guy comes to Cambridge to stay with a friend. His friend invites him to a party, where he meets a girl with whom he falls in love, but his hopes for their relationship are dashed when she suddenly decides to live with his friend. The various changes in their relationship are not adequately explored or explained, but are simply related, and are therefore hard to accept.
Friends signals the contemporary student filmmaker's interest in novel visual interpretation, but underscores their need to-acquire a sense of theater as well.
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