With his previous film, In The Distance, centred around loneliness and isolation, director Florian Grolig decided he wanted a change of pace with his latest short, so chose to focus it on a complex, complicated relationship. A fantasy-piece with a real-life message, Friends follows a young boy with a giant companion, as he struggles to balance his place in society, while maintaining his bond with someone who obviously doesn’t quite fit in.
“After focusing on stories about lonely individuals for about 15 years I wanted to tell a story about relationships”, Grolig explains as we discuss the motivation behind his story. Drawn to the story of a boy and his giant friend because he enjoyed the exaggerated differences between them, Friends is a timely reminder that relationships can be difficult, and will often need work if they are to survive.
In the case of Grolig’s film, the friendship is tested through some extreme circumstances – the destruction of a village, the massacre of a trio of threatening thugs – but the heightened situation works well in provoking a little self-reflection. Have your relationships survived through testing times? What acceptable flaws do you or your friends have? I’m sure it’s not murder – but you get the point…the important message here is that true friends stick together.
Those amplified differences between the two friends work well in intensifying the drama of the piece, but also posed Grolig with somewhat of a conundrum – getting his audience to engage with a character you only ever see part of. Setting out to “explore if a wiggling toe can be emotional”, the filmmaker does a good job of injecting his colossal companion with feelings, as we witness him gently comfort his tiny friend with the stroke from one digit or delicately flick him away – like an annoying fly – when he feels betrayed.
Considering the death and destruction throughout the tight eight-minute runtime of Friends, Grolig does a great job in ensuring things always stay light and fun and a lot of the credit there has to go to the playful aesthetic of his short. With the characters all created through 3D computer animation and the backgrounds and FX (dust, smoke etc) through traditional 2D animation, the two techniques blend well together and create a world and relationship that unexpectedly easy to invest in.
Those production decisions do a good job in emphasising the differences between the friends, and the size of the giant in the world in which he finds himself, but they also mean the film is easy on the eye. There’s just something undeniably fun about watching Grolig’s mammoth character having his immense feet tickled or squashing a threatening individual like a bug.
Having played festivals worldwide on its tour of the circuit, Friends picked-up the ‘Best Animated Short’ award at Tribeca 2020, before its online release, in early 2021, on The New Yorker. Now working on a festival trailer and hoping to create “at least one more mobile game“, Grolig is also producing his Dina Velikovskaya’s (Kukuschka) next short. He aims to start production on his own new film in mid-2021.