Film theorist Peter Wollen made a number of films in his life with his wife, fellow film academic Laura Mulvey. There was only one he made as a solo filmmaker, and it is that film that has been given a new lease of life as the latest 4K restoration from the BFI. 1987’s Friendship’s Death should not only appeal to fans curious about Wollen’s work outside of his work in theory, but it is also an early showcase for Tilda Swinton’s otherworldly screen energy. Quite fitting too, given the focus of this strange, yet undeniably intriguing two-hander.
Swinton plays Friendship, an alien android sent down to Earth on a mission of peace. But upon her arrival, she accidentally ends up in war-torn Jordan in the year 1970 instead of her intended location of MIT. There, amongst the volatile unrest, she strikes up a partnership with British War Correspondent, Sullivan (Bill Paterson). Unsure of whether this striking woman is what she claims to be, or if she is just simply crazy, Sullivan cannot help but be curious. During their time together, Sullivan and Friendship discuss everything from politics, to technology, to football, as they assess whether or not the human species is one worth saving.
Friendship’s Death is very much a film that takes its high concept idea and dramatises it in a very low key fashion. The whole film is entirely made up of conversations between Sullivan and Friendship, dipping its toes occasionally more into more surreal territory every now and again. It is effectively a stage play with two actors trading thoughts on philosophy, war and the footy. It can be a little pretentious, but Wollen’s script manages to balance that out with quite a welcome well-placed sense of humour, something which very much comes to the fore in the character of Sullivan. Played by Bill Paterson with a wry, weary and witty demeanour, Sullivan is a great antithesis to Friendship’s poise and very matter of fact character. Sullivan’s life as a journalist means that he cannot help but be intrigued by this woman and her story, as it soon becomes clear that she may very well be telling the truth.
Full review over at Filmhounds Magazine, originally published October 18th 2020.