David (David Schachter) is a typesetter. Inspired by the book about the AIDS crisis that he is currently laying out, and as a gay man, he decided to volunteer as an AIDS buddy – a visitor for one of the many gay men who are dying alone and abandoned in a hospital. He is assigned to visit Robert (Geoff Edholm). Taken aback at first by Robert’s attempts to be humorous and have high spirits in his desperate situation, the two men quickly become close regardless.
Buddies was maybe the first film shot about the AIDS crisis. Shot while it was still raging pretty much unchecked, there is an urgency to this low-budget production that is hard to escape and that reminds us of how long this period lasted and how many people died. But there is also a strength there, a celebration of gay love that is absolutely beautiful.
Buddies is an intimate film, drawing us into the room with David and Robert. It achieves this intimacy partly because there really are only two actors in the film – Schachter and Edholm. With the exception of Robert’s great love Edward (Billy Lux), who appears in old home videos that David and Robert watch, every other character in the film is a voice (and maybe a shoulder) only.
But part of it is also that we, as much as David, get thrust into Robert’s life just as it is about to end. And Robert clings on to every shred of life that he can cling on to – and that means he is still hungry for human connections. He doesn’t want David to just visit, he wants a part of his life – and that means that he digs deep, asking David very personal questions. And David doesn’t know how to resist – and at some point, he doesn’t want to. The closeness that develops between them, the love they have for each other – it’s complicated, not necessarily romantic, but definitely queer and very beautiful.
But this is also a hugely political film. David is naive, he was lucky – he has an accepting family, his coming out was easy. And he’s also very young. He doesn’t understand why being gay is a political category, and a fighting issue. And he doesn’t understand how AIDS is political, either, at first – he is too removed from it. Robert teaches him – and with him, the audience – a lot about it.
And honestly, just the fact that there was a necessity for buddies in the first place because so many gay men were dying on their own (not just them, of course, but the gay community was hit disproportinately hard, at least in the USA) – if that isn’t a terrible indictment of the politics at the time, I don’t know what is. And Bressan Jr. brings that indictment right home and into your heart where it makes itself felt and can’t be easily forgotten.
Summarizing: find it and watch it.