Review: Friendship’s Death

Written and directed by Peter Wollen, in the 1970s, aliens send a female android diplomat to Earth on a mission of peace, she lands in war-torn Palestine instead of MIT by mistake and meets a friendly UK journalist there. Starring: Bill Paterson, Tilda Swinton, Patrick Bauchau, Ruby Baker and Joumana Gill.

When you think of films with visitors from another planet, it’s probably along the lines of Alien, The Thing or Independence Day, or it could be none of them because there’s such a long list to draw from, but this film doesn’t land in the realm of any of them. The closest comparison you could make to this film would probably be 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, an alien who simply wants to help the human race but is faced with the absurd complication of doing so because humans are constantly at war with one another. Much like Bobby explains how the world works to Klaatu, Sullivan (Paterson) does to Friendship (Swinton), just from a much more philosophical and intellectual viewpoint. It mostly restrains itself from all the bells and whistles that can come from an extra-terrestrial story but adds just enough touches to bring the alien aspect through clearly but is mostly an engrossing conversation about the nature of humanity.

This film is one that fans of Tilda Swinton may not have managed to get their hands on, so watching it after being so familiar with her work in films like We Need to Talk About Kevin and Snowpiercer, it’s fascinating to see her so young and without her now iconic severe and striking look. One thing is for sure however, that she was just as beguiling of a screen presence in 1987 as she is today, she has a powerfully compelling air that immediately draws you into this story. It’s a very interesting performance given that her character is both restrained yet uninhibited, Friendship is an alluring and intriguing package and it’s entrancing to watch Swinton bring her to life. A performance that only improves when paired with Bill Paterson, he has such a classic easy-going charm and permeating confidence. Setting an entire film around a two-person conversation puts a lot of pressure on the shoulders of those two characters but Paterson and Swinton pull it off effortlessly, they’re a pleasure to watch and keep your attention easily throughout.

Wollen’s directorial style keeps a very intimate, closed-in story, the focus never leaves these two characters but the way it moves from place to place and the choices of shots mean that it never feels stilted or claustrophobic. There’s a simplicity to the style with such a strong singular focus but there’s also an attention to detail in its sets that really round out the whole experience, they feel lived in and have a quality that both adds to the visual without distracting any attention away from the leads. The remastering looks wonderful, it has such a texture and richness to its visual that adds even more weight to their fascinating conversation. The dialogue is superbly written throughout, the only contentious point may be the choice of ending, it can feel slightly heavy handed to pair with such a sophisticated story.

Friendship’s Death is effortlessly charming and captivating, exploring a fascinating debate on human nature and all our inherent flaws. Swinton and Paterson are effortless to watch, they both have a very natural, strong screen presence and are both equally charming in their own unique ways. It’s surprisingly engrossing and draws you more quickly and easily than you might expect, with its genuine charisma, magnetic personality and story which is unexpectedly still very relevant.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival – BFI’s remastering of Friendship’s Death will be released summer 2021

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