by FilmInk Staff

Written, directed and edited by James Vaughan, the film was shot on location in thirty-three days by cinematographer Dimitri Zaunders, on what the filmmaker describes as a ‘micro-budget’.

Still, the film has the polish and rigour of a genuine cinematic experience, with fine performances from a cast of (largely) non-actors.

The minimalist plot has Ray (Fergus Wilson) ricocheting from one awkward encounter to another across a Sydney populated by a cast lost in their own vector of neurosis, pre-occupations and imponderable, impenetrable internal narrative… and all Ray can do is roll with it…

Droll, smart and brimming with ideas, Friends and Strangers, which has already dropped at Rotterdam and New York Film Festivals, offers a sharp commentary on the zeitgeist, a comedy of (new and sometimes bad) millennial manners.

FilmInk spoke to Vaughan.

Friends and Strangers has, up to now, been described by some, as a film where ‘nothing happens’. Does that annoy you?

“[Laughs] No it doesn’t actually. I used to say ‘nothing happens’ just to re-set people’s expectations from the first, when we were talking about it [in pre-production]. It is pretty difficult to communicate the essence of the film to people in plot terms.”

Still, once you see the film, that description is apt in one way but in another the film brims with unease, conflict where personalities collide…

“I was hoping it would [be funny] for some.”

The film has a real deadpan quality. It reminded us of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg).

“I have not managed to see any of his films (not on purpose.)”

How about Raymond Carver (Short Cuts) – a literary reference?

“I’m not that well-read. The inspiration was more film. Though I love Kafka. Hong Sang-soo (Hahaha) was an inspiration. I started watching his films in 2012 when he was making a film a year. Eric Rohmer too.”

What emerged from them for you?

“European cinema in general, even when not comedy, there is a tendency to have dialogue that carries multiple meanings rather than a line that carries one story linked meaning.

“To generalise, American cinema has a tendency to do that. Europeans have a different way of approaching dialogue that I really like. What I’m working on now…I don’t think it will be as minimal in terms of narrative as Friends and Strangers. At the same time, I don’t think I would move toward that big emotional psychological motivation style [of more mainstream cinema.] It might be more nakedly surreal.”

The film is built around a series of, what seem at first, loose, or even random incidents. But after a while we see that they are all connected by a theme of miscommunication.

“It’s such a hard one to talk about ‘what the film is about’. I’ve been asked to write director’s statements for festivals and…Whatever I say, I know I’m gonna cringe over later. [Laughs]. But I did want it to feel it was a space or a geography rather than a linear story. Within that space, I wanted things to reverberate – plot, character but also memories and ideas, associations, feelings and for all those things to have a relationship with one another. I wanted it to work on a number of levels…[there are themes] about class, and generational conflict and Colonialism…”

A lot of the film has people engaging in a conversation they don’t really understand.

“There is a sense of it being random [but at the same time] it is not.”

Some of these scenes have the awkwardness of reality, they feel improvised.

“There were a few little moments in there that were improvised but the film was 99% scripted. Being on a micro budget… the more we could prepare the more efficient we would be in using our resources.

“Having the script squared away [was one way of doing that]. It made it easy to plan for camera and get a cinematic result.”

The cast seem to be underplaying the whole time.

“That was my preference. I don’t want the actor to have to load the emotional meaning of what every moment is meant to represent into every moment of the film. Most of the cast are not actors including Fergus Wilson [who plays Ray, the lead]. Emma Diaz is an actor.”

Diaz and Wilson have a very funny cringe-inducing moment where there is a miscommunication over a possible romantic, um, ‘exchange’… There seems to be a conscious statement here about masculinity?

“It was. For a new generation of women, who are in some ways empowered to be more…be more ‘like men’ [in their behaviours typically]. There’s a new generation of men who feel a moral responsibility… they have become more circumspect about romance and sexual interactions.”

Diaz’ character is, crudely put, assertive here, with unexpected consequences…

“It does reflect on the years when I was single in a house with two other single people. And making friends with a lot of other single people. And sharing experiences about dating. This idea of casual dating or open relationships and what the expectations are. What are the stereotypes on both sides?

“It’s an interesting situation since it does not lead to satisfying situations for either where everyone is questioning what their actual role is. I’m talking explicitly about a heteronormative context here.”

Friends & Strangers is screening at the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival on June 30, 2022


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