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The sadly low quota of women-directed Spanish movies is happily and disproportionately raised by Agata’s Friends, a conversation-based Catalan-language work of great promise which traces in claustrophobically intimate detail and with much subtlety the changing dynamics of the relationships between four girlfriends on the frontier between adolescence and adulthood. There’s an odd flatness of approach, a lack of energy about stretches of the film which suggest that there are better things to come, but it’s rich in promise. Festivals with an eye on the future could do worse than take a look at Agata.
The life of these young Catalans is depicted within strict parameters: No parent figures are shown, or indeed much of the wider world at all, and as the title promises, the focus is always tightly on Agata (Elena Martin) and her friends as they move from apartment to nightclub to party and back, sometimes serious, sometimes a little drunk and giggly, always aimless. The titular friends are sexually uninhibited Ari (Marta Canas, particularly strong in one real-time, deliciously hesitant build-up to an onscreen kiss); the less-well-focused Carla (Victoria Serra), in an unhappy relationship; and thoughtful Mar (Carla Linares) and Agata herself, who are close perhaps because neither is in a relationship.
From the start, the four are presented collectively, gathered intimately together into the same frame, and indeed the script doesn’t initially make it easy to assign names to the three friends. Right from an early shot of Agata alone in an elevator, her increasing isolation is emphasized: It’s her first year at university and she is emotionally moving away from the others.
This is the kind of film for which the adjective ‘fresh’ is often reserved. There certainly is a documentary-style naturalness about the character’s lengthy conversations which can only have come from letting them improvise, and there also is the sense that the filmmakers are drawing heavily on their own experience, but despite the sense of intimate authenticity which defines the tone, too little has been done to shape that experience into something telling.
As a dramatic concept on which to hang a whole movie, a young person’s indecisions about who her true friends are is pretty thin fare, but the directors’ commitment to recording the subtle shifts and nuances of what is taking place both inside and between the characters do finally make it worthwhile. After about an hour, with a visit to Agatha’s family’s summer house, the literal and figurative storm clouds gather and break (with impressive oceanic shadow). Visually, the conversations are broken up with elegantly framed cityscapes and seascapes, lovely in themselves but deja vu: Lengthy, still-camera shots emphasize the sense of time meaninglessly passing the characters by, and the loveliest moments are of the four friends simply sleeping, and briefly at ease.
Finally, Agata and her friends are perhaps less interesting as characters than as representatives of a generation. There’s something superficial and empty about these hesitant, thoughtful conversations about boys and future uncertainties, with the whole adding up to a portrait of strong emotions with too little to work on, and of millennial lives with too little to look forward to.
Production companies: Universidad Pompeu Fabra, Lastor Media
Cast: Marta Canas, Carla Linares, Elena Martin, Victoria Serra
Directors-screenwriters-directors of photography-editors: Laia Alabart, Alba Cros, Laura Rius, Marta Verheyen
Producer: Ariadna Dot
Production designer: Anna Mitja
Sales: Lastor Media
Not rated, 70 minutes
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