Magyar helmer Gyorgy Palfi, the auteur of the highly polished, decidedly offbeat festival darlings “Hukkle” and “Taxidermia,” goes the intimate, improvised and low-budget route to largely unsatisfying effect in “I Am Not Your Friend.” Cynical, love-themed criss-crosser set in Budapest features plenty of jiggly vid footage but the improvised characters played by nonpro actors feel so arbitrary it’s hard to care about any of them. Locally, the pic died a quick B.O. death in February, and a competition slot at Karlovy Vary seems to indicate fests will be interested simply based on Palfi’s reputation.
Shot over 20 days in January 2008, the film was, per press materials, not only improvised by the thesps but also by the d.p., the director and the scriptwriters, and all except lensers Istvan Dala and David Lukacs are credited as co-helmers.
The pic introduces its nine protags in a series of set-ups linked by carrying one or more characters from one scene to the next. Storeowner Mark (Zsolt Pall), whose g.f. (Kamilla Fatyol) is pregnant, catches a pretty shoplifter (Corbisier Kim) in his store and quickly crosses the line when trying to set things right.
Equally disrespectful of women is accountant Andras (Csaba Gosztonyi), who leads Sophie (Kati Farkas) on during a phone-sex conversation. Sophie is courted by both Andras and Mark, though the men are both involved with someone else, and these people in turn have an interest — amorous, maternal or otherwise — in some of the other characters.
Result is a gooey web of affections and affiliations that feels less like the intricate randomness of life than the capriciousness of a group of nonpros hung up on the power of their role-playing games, with the director and writers just along for the ride. None of these characters seems to make decisions based on simple logic or any reflection about the possible consequences of their actions. Worse, most protags are unsympathetic or stupid (or both).
Lensing, with frequent zooms and blurry movements, is flat, with faded colors and loss of detail in the nighttime sequences. It’s often clear that the person manning the camera has no idea what will happen next. However, the newly minted 35mm copy shown at the Karlovy Vary Fest does rep a notable improvement over the digital projections shown in Hungary.
The film is preceded by “I Will Not Be Your Friend,” a much more interesting 13-minute docu short shot at a kindergarten that is cutesy verite but has little connection to the feature that follows, except to vaguely foreshadow how difficult and ruthless the adults will be. Here, the value of calling someone a friend is made painstakingly clear.
The entire project, already released on DVD at home, is reportedly a whopping 160 minutes long. It includes a much longer version of the docu short, an expanded main feature and a separate film about the casting process. The three sections are labeled, respectively, as “Paradise,” “Hell” and “Purgatory.”