Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Real Friend – review


Director: Enrique Urbizu

Release date: 2006

Contain spoilers

A Real Friend was on BBC 4 the other night and was one which I wondered about. Should I ‘Honourable Mention” it, should I ‘Vamp or Not?’ it. In the end I decided on review – whilst there is some question over whether you could class this a vampire film, the character Vampiro (Eduard Farelo) is a primary character and, whilst he is not actually a vampire – probably a spoiler too far – the main character Estrella (Nerea Inchausti) believes him to be a vampire and it is her perception of reality that is of primary importance to the film.

the cadaverThe film begins with a scene of the aftermath of a prison riot. Men are injured, gunshots still ring out. A man sits with a rosary. He is taken by a guard (for cash) to the morgue, where he inspects the charred remains of a prisoner. The prisoner has the tattoo of a star still visible upon his hand. Of course, we do not know where this scene takes place, we do not know it is a prison – we discover this later. We then see the man in a room, he is summoned by a girl as *he* has returned. He enters a building and goes through a room with an injured/murdered man. He enters a bedroom and shoots at a man escaping through a window.

Estrella is a young girl home alone, with a tray of food. She gets a DVD out and starts watching the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (or an approximation of it). She seems emotionally drawn by the fate of Leatherface. Her mum, Angela (Goya Toledo), is a nurse and phones her to say she is on route home. By the time she gets to the apartment the news is on.

leatherface becomes Estrella's friendEstrella takes the trash out and draws, in her breath, a star on the mirror – the star is a recurring theme through the film, even with Estrella’s name. After doing her chore she hears a chainsaw, but in reality it is a motorbike in the parking area. She is drawn to a door and opens it. Leatherface is in the room, they shake hands. This is Estrella’s world, she is a loner, obviously intelligent, and the monsters she sees on screen become her friends.

a hand in the nightHer mother does not approve. Though she will let her read horror books, she is opposed to movies. Estrella sneaks them home on DVD (how many of us did that with VHS!). To her the monsters are real, we see Leatherface in class with her, she even hits him when he reaches out towards another student. We see him wandering at the back of shots, quite often.

Eduard Farelo as VampiroWe then see her new friend, Vampiro. He is a vampire, to Estrella, who can come out in daylight and rides a motorbike. But, perhaps he is more real than some of her friends and more dangerous. More than that perhaps her friends are more real than we would believe or expect.

Given what I said at the head of the review you’d be forgiven in thinking that the film did not contain much lore and yet, very subtly, the film does refer to various genre lore. I have mentioned the sunlight reference and there is mention of mirrors also. The use of the cross is maintained by the presence of the Inspector who clutches a rosary whilst holding a gun and, with his poor aim, gives an impression of imperviousness to bullets on Vampiro’s part.

bloodied mouthThere is a subtle twist on the lore of invitation, with Estrella inviting Vampiro to supper. There is also the licking of a drop of blood, followed by a visual that, for the world, looks like a feed – though it is a kiss to the neck (itself followed by a death-like swoon) – and this is closely followed by a bloodied mouth visual. There is also a decapitation that, in itself, may not have been playing with genre staples but taken with the whole works its way in. Kudos to Urbizu for playing with these staples in, very often, the most delicate of ways.

The film is wonderfully surreal in places, a melting pot drawn from the imagination of a lonely girl. Nothing is quite what it seems, and there are dark secrets a plenty. Be they the secrets hidden by Angela, or the secret life led by Estrella’s teacher. The film is wonderfully circular as well – but I can say no more without spoiling too far.

Estrella and AngelaThe pace is downbeat, but purposefully so, and I was rather impressed by the performance given by the young actress Nerea Inchausti. Farelo looks the part as Vampiro.

This is an unusual, short (at 73 minutes) slice of surrealistic horror mixed in with forlorn fantasy. Many thanks to Ian who DVD-RW’d this for me, as it clashed with other programming. Worth catching 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Ian said...

As an observation I am struck by the evident synchronicity of the cover to Dr Shock, your previous post, and some of the content of A Real Friend? The bloodied mouth echoes Vampiro's own in a significant scene and the pentagram star is obvious. Curious.

Glad you liked the film, and I broadly agree with your assessment.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Ian - didn't think of that, but know you mention it there is a degree of synchronicity there

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I should add that there are a lot more interesting levels and layers to the film that, unfortunately, I could not mention as they were too spoiler heavy

Cleve said...

I was really confused by this movie, maybe I wasn't reading enough of the subtitles. Was he not even a vampire, just a murderer?

Ian said...


I would say that he was both a vampire and a murderer... and at the same time neither. Essentially, he and most of the other characters in the movie are products of the child's imagination. Where that imagination begins and ends is open to speculation... which for me was the delightful nature of the film.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cleve, I think Ian nailed it