Unfriend (2014)

Unfriend is simple, heartrending,  and direct to the point – tastefully textured and acted naturally. Making waves in the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival’s Paronama category, the film is a gripping study about how a forlorn gay boy drastically deals with a broken heart.

Set in Manila, Unfriend opens with a shot of a boy standing on the verge of a building, being playful with gravity. He continuously steps his one foot in and out of the border and extends his arm outside, with the camera panning from half frame to whole, seemingly grasping into the unknown. Then we move forward to meet his lover, with whom he shares some time in bed. The lover bids goodbye right after their rendezvous and the boy, with tears permeating his eyes, instantly grabs his tablet and posts an emotional status update on Facebook. All these become much heavier to bear as it is later on revealed that the relationship ended on Christmas eve.

Inspired by a real shooting event that occurred inside a mall in Pampanga several years ago, Unfriend is a bold and compelling story of 15-year-old David’s (Sandino Martin) comfortable life with his grandmother (Boots Anson-Roa). The film takes the viewers through David’s internal revolution nurtured (or rather, triggered) by his virtual reality.

The film, directed by J Altarejos, presents a collage of trivial yet riveting details on social media and how it can influence our life completely. It keeps you waiting and wondering. Focusing solely on the boy’s perspective, every shot made by what is obviously a handheld camera often depicts blurs, out-of-focus shots, and chiaroscuro. The rawness and inherent honesty is evident in every shot. It also doesn’t take the natural sounds for granted, as it effectively conveys unspoken meaning through trains passing by, a marching band’s music wrapping the air of farewell, and the unspoiled surround sound of the lead’s favorite song, placing you in the same room as him.

Seemingly apathetic in the world of the adults yet conscious about the gritty underbelly of his neighborhood, Martin as David is both intense and vulnerable. His love for Jonathan (Angelo Ilagan) is both giving and endless to the point of becoming destructive, like a bomb waiting to explode anytime. Ilagan delivers his role with varying levels of interest and indifference. As for Boots Anson-Roa, she radiates with warmth and a glow that feels almost tangible.

Altarejos handles the familial agony of repressed emotions and period fad with hardly any deception. He provides a sharp commentary on the current status of Manila — illegal selling of firearms online, the carelessness of security guards on public transports, people living on the streets — providing a glimpse at how we tend to be so engrossed in consuming superficial things that we have become numb about the things that are truly important. He manages to reveal and restrain these issues without focusing much on any political standpoint.

Unfriend might disaffect the mainstream viewers with its theme and treatment, but right in its core is a message wanting to resurface –one that has long been buried by our preoccupations and inhibitions.

Rating: 8.5/10

First published in Flipgeeks

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