Written, directed, and edited by Richard Schertzer, Ms. Davis’ Close Friend is a pensive, woebegone short film regarding the imminence of death and the bittersweet comfort that memories induce. Battling breast cancer and loneliness, Marina Davis (Danette Illig) is struggling to find the happiness and strength within to fight to live another day. She goes through the days passively sitting on the couch as death inches closer. Perceiving treatment as a lost cause, she believes fighting to live longer will not prevent the inevitable from happening.
The only relationships she maintains are with her caretaker Katie (Kike Ayodeji), and her son, who’s away at college. Marina is visited on occasion by the one and only Angel of Death, who makes light conversation about the merits and complications of living just a while longer. “We’re all going to die sooner or later,” she says, accepting it while still remembering the people and experiences she had that made life worthwhile.
The Angel of Death, having taken human form, is well-mannered and boasts a firm posture. Katie has a softer, more affable presence, and yet, Marina seems more intrigued by what the Angel of Death has to say than her caretaker. Through Marina’s conversations with the angel and her caretaker, she unveils all that she’s feeling, which is a lot. Granted, some of the loquacious scenes don’t transpire convincingly. “I wonder if they properly planned their life out, or if it’s already been planned for them,” is a line in a scene dedicated to remembering life as it was when they were younger. This bit of dialogue could have been tweaked a little to lend more subtlety and ambiguity to the moment.
“Marina is visited on occasion by the one and only Angel of Death…”
The afterlife is not certain, but what is certain is how we attach value and meaning to our lives. For the lead of Ms. Davis’ Close Friend, that value is found in sifting through photographs and remembering every milestone that injected her life with a feeling of complete elation. Schertzer has crafted a saddening tale about how that euphoria has dwindled significantly as time cruelly passes by. There’s a moment where a ticking clock loudly signifies that Marina’s time is indeed ticking away. In this case, a not-so-subtle parallel works to establish the inevitability of death.
Illig gives a commendable performance. She gives way to pained expressions that hammer in the overarching gloom of this existential drama that, surprisingly enough, has a fairly optimistic ending. Regrettably, the final eight minutes are hampered by a distractingly loud plaintive score and overly dramatic execution.
By employing black-and-white photography, cinematographer Simon Efokoa adds to Marina’s bleak reality. Moreover, the decision to film in monochrome also functions to enhance a later scene where color seeps through in a moment of pure bliss. Ms. Davis’ Close Friend doesn’t always know when to cut back on the dramatics, but the film is well-planned-out, both visually and conceptually, as Schertzer wrestles with the inevitabilities and possibilities of what life (and the afterlife) can bring.
"…well-planned-out, both visually and conceptually..."