Viola Harris, Siobhan Fallon, Beau Hauser, Jerry Jaffe, Richard Scott and Melvin Shrebnick
Flavio Alves (based upon short story by Joao Silverio Trevisan)
Anna Marshall (Viola Harris, The Other Guys) is a recently widowed recluse living an increasingly desperate life when she suddenly starts receiving daily calls from a mysterious stranger. At first irritated by the daily intrusions, over time Anna begins to embrace and even depend upon them as her seemingly only connection to humanity.
Then, suddenly they stop.
Despite early hints of resignation, Anna leaps to action in surprising fashion to fill the void left by her secret friend's unexpected departure.
Written and directed by Flavio Alves, a Brazilian author who was granted political asylum in the U.S. after his book about his experiences as a gay man in the Brazilian navy led to death threats, The Secret Friend is based upon a short story by prolific Brazilian author João Silvério Trevisan.
The film is proving to be wildly popular on the festival circuit, having picked up awards at Canada International Film Festival, Cleveland International Film Festival, Griffon International Film Festival, Las Vegas International Film Festival, Savannah Film and Video Festival and my hometown Indianapolis International Film Festival. Filmed on a less than six-figure production budget, it's a powerful testimony to Alves' convictions and connections that he's managed to assemble such a high quality cast.
85-year-old Hollywood vet Viola Harris gives a remarkable performance as Anna, a woman whose isolation and loneliness is at times heartbreaking yet never pathetic. Harris's performance is so rich and authentic that you don't so much pity Anna as you simply want to spend time with her. Harris's Anna is simultaneously sweet and endearing, sad and lonely, funny and wondrously charming. While there are other performers in the film, most notably Siobhan Fallon (Baby Mama, Forrest Gump), The Secret Friend depends upon a strong central performance and Viola Harris hits a home run.
D.P. Adam McDaid's camera work is stellar, capturing remarkable intimacy in the film by allowing the camera to linger almost uncomfortably long on Harris's face during each phone call as she experiences anxiety fear, release, joy, celebration and loneliness. It's a gifted cinematographer who masters the art of timing, not just the frame-up of a shot or its technical aspects. McDaid, who earned his M.F.A. in Cinematography from the American Film Institute in 2006 and served as a camera intern under Janusz Kaminski on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, clearly embraces the idea of allowing the camera to tell a story.
It is hard enough to create characters that matter and a story that is compelling in the course of a full-length feature film. In most cases, makers of short films choose to tell a sliver of a story and to tell it incredibly well. In this case, however, Flavio Alves manages to construct both characters that matter and a story that is so involving that one is likely to experience both laughter and tears within the film's short 15-minute running time.
The Secret Friend is, quite simply, one of the best short films of this past year and a surefire sign that Flavio Alves is a cinematic voice to be reckoned with for years to come. Between Alves' confident and sensitive direction and the delightful performance of Viola Harris, The Secret Friend is a film you won't soon forget.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic