Based on a Story by Joao Silverio Trevisan
Screenplay by Flavio Alves
Directed by Flavio Alves
Director Flavio Alves has taken the long, hard road into the world of filmmaking. Growing up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he served 6 years in the Brazilian Navy. His tenure there inspired him to write the book Call To Silence (English title), an autobiographical account of his time in the Navy as a gay man. Following the publishing of this book, he was sought out as a target, recieving death threats that have been confirmed even by the mayor of Sau Paolo, Brazil. In 1997 he headed for New York City, where he landed at JFK seeking political asylum. Once granted, Alves took his new opportunities and ran with them, ending up at Columbia University where he earned a BA in Political Science, continuing on to the legendary NYU film school, where he won the award for Best Student Film.
Now Alves has finished his third film, the short The Secret Friend, centering on an elderly widow named Anna and her quiet, lonely life after the death of her husband. Without any friends, and a son she doesn’t have contact with, Anna lives a solitary, lonely existence. Her lonliness is punctuated when her neighbor, Julie (Siobhan Fallon) stops by to say hello, but must hurry away to pick up her kids from school.
Anna receives a mysterious phone call that piques her interest, but she loses hope when the calls end up with no one replying to the other end of the line. After a few of these phone calls, she begins a friendship with the male caller. She finally has someone to talk to, and enjoys New Year’s Eve on the phone with her new secret friend.
When the voice tells her thank you for everything and stops calling, Anna must find a way to fill the void her new friend has left her, and decides she will be the proactive one, searching out a new friend.
Director Alves expresses his affinity for stories focused on senior citizens. With this film, the story centers on a lonely elderly woman who has seemingly lost contact with the rest of the world, until an unknown caller connects with her. Her friend on the other end of the line provides her with just what she needs: A friend. When the friendship ends abruptly, she must find other ways to make the same connection with someone else.
The Secret Friend is unique in the fact that it’s a film focused on a senior citizen, and it explores the many plights of lonely elderly people, and the rest of the world’s inattention to them. Knowing Alves’ history, I’m sure he feels a connection to these lonely individuals, as I’m sure he was one at some point, being a gay Brazilian ex-patriot alone in New York City.
On this level, he understands the importance of a good friend. Based on a short story by Brazilian author Joao Silverio Trevisan, Alves adapted the screenplay himself and directed from his screenplay. The film is very well made, shot on Kodak 5229 film stock, which beautifully renders the New York scenery in delicate tones that accent the story nicely. Cinematographer Adam McDaid never lets the images overpower the story, instead the two elements compliment each other nicely.
Viola Harris brings a grounded reality to the character of Anna, which would be very easy to sensationalize, but instead, she keeps things light while still remaining emotional and bringing weight to the script. She is the only actor for most of the film, with Siobhan Fallon playing the role of her twitchy neighbor Julie, and she is the one most people will recognize for her work in movies like New In Town and Baby Mama.
All in all, Flavio Alves has made a tight, interesting film that sheds light on a subject not often found in many films. He manages to keep things light and entertaining, without missing the weight of the dramatic elements of the story. Visually, he keeps the story interesting, although we rarely see outside of Anna’s small apartment. The entire film ends up resting on the final scene, which is executed with humor and panache. While The Secret Friend might not be relateable to wide audiences, Alves has found a key niche and played right to it, making an entertaining and heartwarming film that I’m sure will translate into feature success for him in the future.