Monday, February 18, 2013

DVDebut: Marco Berger's quiet, subtle ABSENT probes same-sex, inter-generational attraction

Those of us (there were quite a few, I think) who loved Plan B -- the funny, quirky and very unusual bro-mance from Argentine filmmaker Marco Berger -- have been eagerly awaiting the chance to see this movie-maker's follow-up film, ABSENT. (Cinco, the movie Berger made between these two has been seen in and is available nowhere, it seems, except Argentina.) Both films take their time enthralling us and arriving at their destinations, but Absent, just out on DVD, is quite another kettle of fish. In it, Berger manages once again to upend our expectations. (These expectations are not helped by the fact that Netflix insists on calling the film a "thriller" that's both suspenseful and scary -- when it is anything but.)

Beautifully acted, written and directed, Absent proves as quietly sad as Plan B was light-hearted and buoyant. Señor Berger (at left) has made a movie about desire, as it occurs in the body and mind of a member of a high-school swimming team. The object of that desire is one of the team coaches, who has no clue regarding what is transpiring in front of him and right next to him. Or perhaps he does but is doing his level best to disregard and deny it.

The film is full of shots of the male body, yet none of these are prurient or even slightly pornographic. What they do is show us how different areas of the anatomy can attract and excite by their very nature and depending, of course, on the eye of the beholder.

The main characters are the coach, Sebastián (Carlos Echevarría, below, right), and student, Martín (Javier De  Pietrobelow, left), and both actors are extraordinarily centered and in the moment.

Although it is nothing like a thriller, there is a kind of suspense that captures us in the initial scenes, as the boy involves the man in his plan to find a way to be with him. Berger allows us to see some of the lives of both parties outside school; from this we can deduce that both are frustrated by their current situations. But society's restrictions, coupled with the adult's fears (perhaps refusal) of dealing with some of his own desires, prevent any kind of genuine give-and-take.

One quiet thing leads to the next until a sudden explosion occurs. Even this is no deal-breaker. Instead, it takes life, with its sudden twist and surprise, that changes everything. Berger -- certainly one of the best gay filmmakers working today -- take his chances with this film. It proceeds slowly, though not repetitively, and still manages to hold us in its thrall.

This writer/
director works on a small scale, keeping everything from character to event in that correct scale. He uses silence as well as he does dialog. And his finale -- which combines past with pre-sent, actions taken with those suppres-sed -- manages to be extraor-dinarily moving and pointed, without jerking a tear.

Absent, from TLA Releasing, is available now for sale, rental or streaming.

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