The line "friends for life" is always stressed and repeated between people who cherish their living mates, but what happens when death does people apart? Can loyalty and devotion live on? Can friendship remain untouched?
Following the dark family dramas (I Don't Care if Tomorrow Never Comes, 2006) and (Hand of the Headless Man, 2007), the Malandrin brothers (Stéphane and Guillaume) moved from shedding light on the turbulent relations that affect dysfunctional families, to focus on the very essence of friendship between people, especially when part of the circle is missing, in their latest work I’m Dead but I have Friends (Je suis mort mais j'ai des amis).
Part of Panorama's European Cinema Selection, the film tells the story of the extraordinary journey where two die-hard rockers who prefer beer to personal hygiene pay their respects to a fallen comrade.
As surreal as its title is, the film puts the existential question of friendship after death to the test, through a comic tone.
A group of beardy Belgian rockers with beer bellies lose their mate before starting a once in a lifetime California tour. Approaching the age of fifty, the band members, stubbornly devoted, bury their third member, best friend and lead singer, and decide to steal his ashes and continue the tour as a tribute to their fallen comrade.
The death of the singer (played by Jacky Lambert) is not the twist but rather the minor inconvenience that unfolds in an exciting plot.
Through the film's compositions, viewers can sense a moderate production, which takes place in concert halls in Brussels, trains en route to Canada, and planes flying to California. However, class acts by Belgian leading actor (Bouli Lanners) and Flemish actor (Wim Willaert) steal the attention from all production issues.
An unmissable performance by Willaert and Lanners makes the long obscene dialogues between them an ode to their fallen rock and roll friend, showing the emotions and insecurities of a stereotypical character. Viewers can feel the burly rockers longing for one last hard hitting performance on stage unleashing new guitar riffs and screaming at the microphone until their vocal chords hurt, and one last night filled with beer and hotdogs leading to a really painful hangover.
Another character whose traits, looks and behavior are better to be discovered by the viewer is Danny (played by French-Algerian actor and director Lyes Salem) who is an unexpected lover of the late friend who fuels the conflict between the grumpy Willaert and Lanners.
The Malandrin brothers deployed the characters to be silly, funny, in the well-tailored storyline, transferring their work from a mundane episodic road trip to something more fun, where the protagonists' carefully planned intentions are thwarted.
The fast paced comedy in I’m Dead but I have Friends turns situations that are unpredictable and not necessarily comic to a scatological gag, whether in a possible plane crash, a funeral, and being stopped by airport security.
Although the characters sound like full-on rock and roll blokes from Belgium, they are delightfully childish. Their well-built bodies, untrimmed beards, and crazy behavior shouldn't trick viewers. The filmmakers pushed this contradiction through some stand alone scenes, where a middle aged rocker steals a banana from a six-year-old girl or smokes a piece of hash he hid between his toes, or when a heart broken bass guitar player eats three dishes of Belgian fries, combining comedy and drama.
Speaking of rock music, a carefully chosen eighties punk rock track keeps the viewer interested and the characters determined with their objective.
I'm Dead but I have Friends is a film about friendship, rock music, and least of all death- simply put but nevertheless made with sophistication.
(Photo: still from I’m Dead but I have Friends)
I'm Dead but I have Friends screens twice during the Panorama
Saturday 28 November at 10:30am
Karim Cinema, 15 Emad El-Din street, Downtown Cairo
Friday 4 December at 1pm
Zawya, Cinema Odeon, 4 Abdelhamid Said street, Downtown Cairo
Check Panorama's programme here and Ahram Online recommendations here.
*Ahram Online is the main media sponsor of The Panorama of the European Film and of Zawya.
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