Saturday, October 17, 2020

FRIENDSHIPS DEATH (1987) - BFI London Film Festival 2020 - Day 9

FRIENDSHIP'S DEATH was originally released in 1987 but has since been lovingly restored by the BFI and is playing in this year's London Film Festival. 

It stars a very young Tilda Swinton as woman who seemingly just shows up in Jordan in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian war of 1970, and is befriended by a journalist played by Big Paterson.  The rest of the movie plays as a two-hander and takes place almost entirely within the confines of a hotel room in Amman. We hear the bullets and bombs firing and very occasionally see archive news footage but essentially this feels like a filmed stage play, albeit with some rather funky camera angles and some deeply cool outfits for Swinton.

The conceit of the film is that Swinton is actually an alien from a more advanced planet where the biological beings have long since died out and been superseded by cylons. She has been sent to Earth to make contact with the academic community and give them an axiomatic ethical system that can ensure humanity's peaceful survival.  She ends up in Amman by mistake, and seeing the brutality of war gives up on her mission, rather accurately predicting that if she did make it to MIT she'd just be turned over to the FBI for endless testing and exploitation - and that - in the funniest line of the film - if she went to England the authorities there would do the same but just more slowly.

Those looking for a sci-fi film will be disappointed.  This is actually a rather more philosophical film where two smart people - well one person and one robot -  debate the Singularity and ethics. The wonder of the film is that despite its short running time, we really believe in the friendship that has built up between the pair, and indeed delight in Tilda Swinton's delight at the absurdity of shaving, or at building things with Lego! This is - then - a beautifully acted chamber piece, remarkably prescient in its ideas and understanding of technology.

FRIENDSHIP'S DEATH originally played Toronto 1987 and Berlin 1988. It is playing in the BFI London Film Festival 2020 in a new restored version from the BFI National Archive.

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