The Secret Friend
Directed by Flavio Alves
2010 / 15 Minutes
The Setup: A reclusive, elderly widow, Anna Marshall (Viola Harris), lives in quiet desperation until she begins receiving daily calls from a silent stranger. An odd and mysterious friendship evolves between the two, as Anna begins to share her life experiences with startling honesty. Empty days are given new hope, but when the calls abruptly end, a devastated Anna is compelled to surprising action to fill the unbearable void. (from thesecretfriendmovie.com)
The Secret Friend only has a running time of fifteen-and-a-half minutes, and yet still it somehow manages to be an expertly crafted film that is thought provoking on several different levels. That’s a majorly impressive accomplishment for a story that’s only given one-seventh of the general run time of a standard full length feature and thankfully it makes my job as a reviewer much easier.
Elderly and recently widowed, Anna Marshall (portrayed expertly by Viola Harris) is a sadly accurate representative of the way in which we as a society treat our senior citizens. Since the death of her husband, she has been forced to live alone and fend for herself. Anna has few friends and her only child, a son, appears to be too busy with his own life to take time out to celebrate the holidays with her, or God forbid, even to go through the hassle of checking in on her occasionally to make sure she’s getting by okay. Even when a neighbor does stop by under the guise of being worried about her, just as soon as they arrive they quickly leave, making it plainly obvious that they’d rather be anywhere but in her apartment.
One day Anna begins receiving prank phone calls. She can hear someone breathing on the other end of the line, but when she confronts them, no matter what she says, they do not respond. At first this aggravates her to no end and she becomes confrontational with the caller, yelling at them for invading her privacy, but eventually, being isolated and alone, Anna comes to depend on the calls as one of her only forms of communication with the outside world. While everyone else is too busy to care about Anna’s life, the mysterious caller continues to ring her home at the same time every day, and listens without passing judgment as she talks freely about what’s goiong on in her life and whatever else comes into her mind.
How many of us really bother to listen to others when conversing? Far too often we’re impatient, waiting only for our chance to speak. Here’s a fun experiment you can try. The next time you’re having a conversation with someone, remind yourself to do nothing but listen to what the person you’re talking with is saying. Don’t cut them off when they’re speaking, don’t make faces, don’t judge. Just listen. Then, when their done, instead of immediately filling the silence, take a moment to process the aural and visual information you’ve been provided with before responding. It’s amazing what one can learn if only they take the time to really listen.
One day the mysterious calls abruptly stop and Anna is left feeling distraught. With no other recourse, she pays a visit to a middle manager at the phone company who barely listens to what she has to say, twists her words, and dismisses her inquiries about who has been calling her by hiding behind company policy.
How many times have you encountered a similar situation when dealing with a representative of a particular company? Instead of listening to your problem like a human being and working with you in order to determine a satisfactory solution for both parties, they simply tow the company line and hide behind policy. Truly great customer service is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
With nowhere else to turn, Anna returns home, none the wiser about who her secret caller could have been, but she’s forever changed in a positive way by the experience.
The Secret Friend isn’t available on DVD quite yet, but you can check for local screening dates and times by visiting the official website. If it’s playing near you, go see it. You’ll be glad you did.
Note: The Secret Friend is based on a short story by Brazilian author João Silvério Trevisan. If anyone has any information regarding how one can obtain a copy, or if you’ve read the story yourself, please leave a comment below. I’d love to be able to compare the original story to the film version.