Deep Dive: Solace, Empathy & The Hardships Of Friendship
It is officially week four of Deep Dive and with that comes the introduction of its theme! This week’s installment of films studies friendship and its inherent qualities of empathy and solace. There is no formula to making friends, but the organic development of a friendship is nuanced in various shades, rendering it a unique and inexplicably invaluable motive for life. Sometimes your new friend’s life is at risk, and other times you have to save your best friend from self-destruction. But the question always lingers: Just how far would you go for your friend?
dir. Juan Carlos Cermata Malberti / 2005
“If we squeeze each other tight, no one can separate us.”
All seems to be well and stable for pre-teen Malú (Malú Tarrau Broche) and her best friend Jorgito (Jorge Milo) in Havana, Cuba. Their troublesome ways of playing on the streets of the city have created a divisive relationship between their families from different social backgrounds. For Malú, her middle-class, bourgeois lifestyle is simply a testament to her collection of stuffed animals, but for her mother it’s an identity that is sabotaged by her friendship with Jorgito. Similarly, Jorgito’s mother is scornful of Malú’s family and their rejection of Cuba’s communist ideals. When Malú’s grandmother dies, Malú’s mother, fed up and disillusioned by economic hardship, vows to send her off to a foreign country, forcing Malú to leave her native Cuba and her best friend. With no other alternative, Malú and Jorgito undertake a secret journey to Point Maisí, the polar end of Cuba, in order to convince Malú’s father to deny permission of her emigration. What unfurls is a story of childish caprice, maternal paranoia and compassion, as Malú and Jorgito traverse nearly 1,000 miles by foot with no food or money. They learn to navigate the fluctuations of their friendship catalyzed by their moods and undying devotion toward each other. In several instances, Malú chastises Jorgito’s clumsiness, lack of orientation and brash sense of humor. She also taunts him for his height and immaturity. But when reminded of the impending reality of their situation, they hold on to each other in the most daring of circumstances, worrying over each other’s health and relying on the grasp of a hand for solace. In parallel, the despair and anguish of both Malú and Jorgito’s mothers seemingly bring them together through compassion, stripping each other of their own past judgments. “Viva Cuba” is a heartwarming comedic drama of two best friends fueled by the whim and humor of their imaginations.
dir. Amman Abbasi / 2017
“I got jumped in the Blood.”
“Dayveon” tells the story of 13-year-old Dayveon (Devin Blackmon) who finds life and meaning after the death of his brother. A restless and uncertain boy yearns to fill a void representing guidance and familiarity. But when he’s introduced to the local Blood gang, his internal despair is masked by curiosity, only to find himself immersed in a culture that exceeds his expectations of extreme adventure. Mook (Lachion Buckingham), the unofficial leader of the gang, quickly undertakes Dayveon as the new kid in town, holding his hand throughout his initiation and introduction to the gang. On the other hand, Dayveon befriends his sister’s boyfriend Bryan (Dontrell Bright), who strives to lovingly comfort Dayveon by simply hanging out and talking with him — an overt foil to Mook’s character. Now, Dayveon finds himself stuck between two models of solace, each epitomizing life as a young, black adult. What shines most about “Dayveon” is the portrayal of qualities in each character and how they distinctly shine in the director’s unique filmmaking style. The saturated colors of clothing and street art offer contrast to the characters, emphasizing complex personalities. Relying on non-actors and a traditional aspect ratio of 4:3 (think minuscule, old-school television screen size), Abbasi was able to intimately document the realization of emotions heavily prevalent in gang culture. According to the film’s press notes, Abbasi and screenwriter Steven Renaud created Dayveon, Mook and Brian based on individuals they met and spoke with who led similar lifestyles in Arkansas. Therefore, the performances from the non-actors are incredibly sensible: They are neither excessively dramatic nor overwhelmingly trite but nuanced to a degree of heightened realism. In one scene where Dayveon is confronted by Brian, the dialogue and emotions are played out organically as if sprung from experience and not from script. Running on just over 60 minutes, “Dayveon” is a poignant cinematic experience that uniquely approaches universal ideals such as growing up, losing one’s innocence and navigating vulnerability.
dir. Xavier Dolan / 2012
“We flew so high I never came down.”
Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) and Fred (Suzanne Clément) are in fearless love and live unabashedly. Laurence, a writer and literature teacher at a high school, is the sober counterpart to Fred, a flamboyant film production assistant who embodies the colorful eccentricities of fashion, music and art. Their lives shift seismically when Laurence confesses his life desire to be a woman, and Fred in turn must choose between leaving or supporting the love of her life. When Fred chooses the latter, the couple is confronted with the reality that so often accompanies one’s assertion of identity: Society is never ready to embrace it. When Laurence begins to cross-dress, he is soon fired. When Fred invests in Laurence’s new wardrobe, she is lectured by her own mother and sister. And when Laurence writes discretely at a bar, he is mocked for his outfit and makeup, leading to a bloody fight. But even as Fred and Laurence appear to bypass all judgments, they cannot help but feel the increasing frailty of their romance. A part of Fred longs for a conventional married life where she can live without scrutiny. But when she does find love in someone else, it is hard for it to fill that gaping hole which Laurence so boldly occupied in her heart. Similarly, when Laurence discovers a new social circle — one that is far more sympathetic with his personality — he cannot help but relish fond memories of Fred. “Laurence Anyways” is a bright-eyed film that refuses to let go of gripping emotions. It is not a love story but rather a tale of unconditional and muddled infatuation. At the core of their admiration, however, lies a steadfast friendship that sees beyond judgement. Their physical attraction toward each other is heavily underwhelmed by the magnetism of their souls and minds. No matter how hard they fight it, they are indelibly bound to one another. “Laurence Anyways” proves that even when the perils of society lurk beneath us, love and friendship always stand the test of time.
AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS
dir. Louis Malle / 1987
“Are you scared?”
Set against the backdrop of Nazi-occupied France, “Au Revoir Les Enfants” details a fraternal friendship shadowed by political and social prejudice. Julien (Gaspard Manesse) is reluctantly sent off by his mother to a Catholic boarding school in the outskirts of Paris with hopes to protect himself from incessant bombing. Upon arrival, his mischievous and prankish antics take over as Julien reunites with his friends who tease, taunt and steal from one another. Julien’s naughty ways are suddenly halted when Jean Bonnet (Raphaël Fejtö) and three new students arrive. Unbeknownst to Julien and the rest of the students is that the new boys are actually Jews avoiding Nazi persecution. Taken under the guardian of the dean, Father Père Jean (Philippe Morier-Genoud), the boys adapt to Catholic faith and the school’s norms. Julien, naturally struck by curiosity and intrigue, soon befriends Jean. The dangers of their friendship are unapparent to Julien, but when he discovers the truth Julien chooses to ignore any premonition of political or social repercussion and instead cultivates a friendship that sees beyond cultural divides. When the school hosts a parents’ weekend, Julien decides to invite Jean to lunch with his mother and older brother, never considering divulging Jean’s hidden identity to his mother. Similarly, Julien never exposes Jean’s secret to other students. The beauty of the film does not rely solely on the adventures of Julien and Jean but instead on a subtle philosophical critique and exploration of humanity, prejudice and trust. We observe what it means to steal for the sake of survival, the importance of forgiveness as a bridge across religions, the value of friendship in the most dangerous of situations and the baseless oppression of people. You’ll find yourself rooting for a character whose physical maturity does not exceed the tender age of 11 but whose emotional maturity exceeds that of an adult and offers you lessons in conviction and sympathy.
words_sharon beriro design_jess morgan