JUST FRIENDS (2018), original title Gewoon Vrienden, is a Netherlands TV film which is playing as part of the Queer Screen Film Fest and what a delight it is. A romantic comedy, it is a film of perfect balance, the beginning hilarious, the middle romantic and the finale deliciously moving. Featuring two terrific actors in the lead roles and a quirky collection of family behind them, it is a story of opposites and their attraction.
Josha Stradowski is Joris. Rich and unmotivated, he balances his time between riding his not quite a classic, older motorcycle to solitary places to play with his high-tech drone or doing a partnerless work-out at the gym. Majd Mardo is Yad, a young man of initially indiscriminate heritage, obviously not from Dutch stock, who has been a bit too heavy into the party scene in Amsterdam has returned to the family home in Almere, Flevoland, Netherlands. His balance in life revolves around his love of windsurfing.
Their families have similarities, they both have sisters and they both have issues with their mothers. Yad is ordered to get a job to pay rent by his severe, strict mother and he ends up as a social care assistant for Joris’ grandmother, Ans. (Jenny Arean) The grandmother who really does not understand her daughter, Joris’ mum, Simone (Tanja Jess) who has a plastic surgery addiction and a liking for Port.
The film is directed by Annemarie van de Mond, as Ellen Smit, with such a light touch and a focus on the familial situations which make them who they are. It begins in comedy, though, as Joris’ family are introduced in a very funny scene which also serves to illustrate the impassive and solitary nature of the young man. Tensions hit immediately when Yad is collected from the bus station by his mother and their insults are greetings all their own. Placing the boys in situ will stand the film in good stead after the initial falling in love … because these young men are very different from each other. It’s hard to see them staying together and tensions will rise when they each have very different responses to homophobic taunts in a restaurant.
But seeing them together, lustful and loving, is such a beautiful watch. No overt sexual content but a very luxurious shot selection which certainly explains the attraction. There is one gym shot that is a serious wet dream, um does that make me a gay man? No just a lover of beauty and delicate filmmaking.
Shot with an excess of light and limited landscape vistas, this intimate story relies on the charisma of, and rapport between, its stars. Stradowski never appears brooding or distant despite his slow internal rhythm and Mardo doesn’t overplay the bad boy but does a very cute line in sardonic flirting. When they come together, their enjoyment of being in the same frame is palpable and when they disagree the distance between them is painful to observe.
Watching it all is Arean’s Ans who has a lifetime of experience in love and watches the boys with compassion and support. It is such a lovely performance, Ans is played with gusto and grit and is the kind of old lady we would be all be if we could. None of the family have issues with the sexual orientation of these two but the mothers are very unconvinced about the wisdom of this particular match. As Simone, Jess is horrid. She may well have a face and figure of her own making but has, seemingly, little understanding of her son. It’s lovely comic performance that is never overdone or hammy and we reserve the right to think that she might really be on his side.
Comic and romantic in perfect harmony this is such an sweet film. But see it in the cinema during the Festival if only for the audio design. Not just the music, mellow mainly but occasionally pumping, but how the music reflects their lives as we hear what they hear in their earbuds and we end up enjoying their Spotify as much as they do.