Mel is a miserable outsider working in a food-packing factory.
One night the 23-year-old is out driving her car when she crashes
into 14-year-old hitchhiker Jennie and the two fall in love faster
than Jennie manages to say "I'm ok".
Jennie assumes shorthaired, flat-chested Mel is a boy and when
she asks where "he" is from, Mel answers Portugal, inventing an
18-year-old male alter ego. Sweet, frail love blooms in the small
industrial town in northern Germany.
All would (probably) stay good and gravy between the two lovers
if it wasn't for a real Portuguese, a group of homophobic teenage
boys and a friend who can't keep promises.
This nest of intrigue is the foundation of My Friend From Faro,
a beautifully-composed cinematic experience playing with gender
issues, age gaps and homophobia whilst telling an innocent story of
a first love.
The award-winning script was born when director and scriptwriter
Nana Neul hitchhiked to Berlin and someone told her about a young
girl who had fallen in love with a strange older boy.
Mediterranean-looking Mel is based on the idea of that strange
boy and is played by the blonde and blue-eyed Anjorka Strechel.
The transformation that both she (with help from contact lenses
and a drastic haircut) and her character went through was what
initially attracted the 26-year-old to the script.
"I thought the story was great because it's a love story and a
coming-of-age story. It is a true transformation that I go through
with Mel and I found it cool that I could play a role that is so
far from how I am in real life."
In Russia Anjorka is a superstar and she recently won the Golden
Eagle best female actress price for The Edge.
It's easy to spot why; her impersonation of Mel is fantastic and
bound to make the knees tremble on any girl with even the slightest
gay tendency. Although she shyly says she'd rather not talk about
her sexuality, she admits she wouldn't mind becoming a lesbian
"It's somehow surreal to imagine it," she chuckles, clearly
flattered by the suggestion, "but I don't think it would matter, it
wouldn't change my life if that was the case."
Co-star Lucie Hollmann was only 13 when the film was shot and
according to Nana, she was extremely professional throughout.
"The only thing she didn't want to do was to practise the kiss
scene. She would only do it in front of rolling camera."
And it was in fact her first ever kiss.
For Anjorka the hardest part wasn't playing a girl pretending to
be an 18-year-old boy or playing part of a couple where the co-star
was half her age but the naked scene.
(Yes, you heard me, and without ruining the film too much for
you, I can reveal that it gets to a point where Mel needs to prove
a thing or two.)
"I knew it was going to happen at some point but then when you
stand there you can no longer hide behind your character... I was
really scared but you have to trust the director and I think the
camerawoman solved it really well."
Thanks to terrible weather, the sex scene, filmed at a beach
(very clichéd, Nana admits) turned out very different to how it was
"In retrospective it gives the scene a very melancholic feel…
it's almost dreamlike. But I initially chose the location because I
wanted to get out of this small city and into a vastness where you
can imagine life to be different," Nana explains.
Anyone watching would agree. It is a sex scene without actual
sex, where silent hands gripping sand say far more than any moaning
could ever do.
Nana has described My Friend From Faro (the original German
title Mein Freund Aus Faro gives it a double meaning) as a prequel
to Boys Don't Cry. It bears resemblance to Unveiled (2005) and Show
Me Love (1998) but to a much further extent manages to carry a
message without explicitly saying things out loud.
Pay attention to the detail and let yourself get carried away
with the light, the sound, the story; here things are left for the
audience to find between fine lines. And although there is a great
amount of symbolism to be seen in cornfields, cigarettes and open
oceans, this is a film for everyone and anyone to watch.
Neither Nana nor Anjorka want to cast any further light onto the
ending but one thing remains certain: seldom has a love story been
told so beautifully.