My Friend From Faro
Dir: Nana Neul
Cert:15 • Ger: 90 min • Westdeutscher Rundfunk • May 16, 2011 [DVD]
Melanie (Anjorka Strechel), the boyish and adorable young protagonist of My Friend From Faro, works in a mundane catering job and daydreams about escaping to Portugal. When a handsome young man from Faro, Nuno (Manuel Cortez), begins working alongside her she finds herself wanting to emulate his style and mannerisms, despite his volatile demeanour. They soon forge a friendship based initially on Nuno’s need for cash and Mel’s need for a fake boyfriend to keep her family happy.
Things take a dramatic turn when Mel drives home one night from work in her prized red BMW and nearly runs over Jenny (Lucie Hollman) – a teenage girl out on the razz with her best friend, Bianca (Isolda Dychauk), hitchhiking for a ride to the local nightclub in their German town.
The girls mistakenly think Mel is from Portugal, and when they try to guess her name she realises that they think she is a man – Miguel. Jenny seems smitten with Miguel, who is charming, sensitive, and expects nothing more than Jenny’s company – a world away from Jenny’s current thuggish boyfriend and her homophobic brother. Mel/Miguel becomes Jenny’s boyfriend, fighting with her sense of self and knowing she risks losing Jenny if she comes clean. Mel isn’t also faces the struggle to come out to her family as well as exploring her gender and rocky friendship with Nuno.
While this might seem like a lot of issues to pack into one film, the strands weave together seamlessly to form an intricate multi-layered story. My Friend from Faro is a film about discovery, naming, family, and love. Although it draws comparison with Boys Don’t Cry, it isn’t anywhere near as harrowing – but do be prepared for some heart wrenching scenes, particularly as Mel comes to terms with her reality and faces the brutality of Jenny’s brother and his posse.
The cinematography is stylish and modern, and comparing easily to mainstream dramas with higher budgets. Deft touches of comedy complement and balance powerful raw scenes. Mel navigates her journey through gender-dysphoria and sexual identity with a maturity and level of control that is refreshing to see on-screen. Naming is key to the film, as well as what is left unnamed – we aren’t ever quite sure where Mel identifies on the gender spectrum and Jenny wonders what the relationship means for her own identity.
My Friend From Faro could be a trans film, or a film about a soft butch finding her way in the world – that depends on the viewer’s interpretation, and it mirrors Mel’s own uncertainty as well as asking us to question the labels we use and hear. The way this is handled is thought-provoking and positive, and for that exploration alone – which could have left Mel demonised if were not so delicately written – this is a splendid addition to any LGBT film collection.