26 September 2023

Friends and Strangers

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

Writer/director: James Vaughan, Bonsai Films.

Through the eyes of two upper-middle class millennials, this stealthy comedy-drama feels dreamlike as it traverses the zones of dislocation, detachment and tedium in contemporary Australia.

About contrasts, Friends and Strangers is the daunting ineptness of asymmetrical moments that eventually shape the film. It’s a non-linear, cultural exploration with an oblique take on realism.

Boldly framed and delicately layered, the film of social unease presents several sketches from life as experienced by Alice and Ray, two, nearly-30 drifters born into privilege, but seemingly incapable of navigating the featureless abyss of casual employment, wilted romances and off-hand empire-building schemes.

Ray always seems to think too much or not enough, but he means well. Though he exists in the present, his mind always seems to be somewhere else.

When you are facing an anxious choice – between a comfortable submission to hollow materialism and a lonely, precarious investigation into (possibly doomed) alternatives – a natural response points to a kind of paralysis, one that delays making any choices at all.

James Vaughan wanted to probe the intellectual ennui in Australia’s upper middle-class and draw a line from there to Australian society at large.

“There’s both an inherent comedy and quiet horror to the petty, pestering tasks and tepid struggles for social validation that seem to dominate life in Sydney’s comfortable inner suburbs. Shrivelled by a narcissistic, homogenous corporate culture, eroded civic connectivity and the endless, enervating pursuit of short-term, insecure work, so many individuals are lost in a desert of meaningless choices while the important questions about our genocidal origins and the future we imagine for our society and our world is always work for another day.”

This is Vaughan’s (You Like It, You Love It) feature-length directorial debut, which was a Jury Prize winner at Jeonju Int’l Film Festival, South Korea, in 2021.

  • Friends and Strangers is in limited cinema release

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