Winner of the Teddy Award at the Berlin Film Festival – a gong given to the best movie on LGBT themes – Absent comes to DVD fresh from a centrepiece screening at the recent London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival in March.
The film is about a teenage boy, Martin (Javier De Pietro), who pretends to have something wrong with his eye so that his teacher, Sebastian, has to take him to the hospital. When they’ve finished with the doctor, Martin comes up with a convoluted story about having arranged to stay the night with a friend that they can’t get in touch with and then gives reasons why he can’t go home. Unsure what to do, the teacher decides to take him back to his apartment and let him stay the night. It’s clear though the student has ulterior motives, being somewhat flirtatious and touching Sebastian’s leg while he sleeps.
The next day Sebastian discovers that everything Martin said was a lie and his parents have been looking for him all night. However Sebastian doesn’t know why Martin has gone to the trouble of making up excuses to stay at his house, although he does know his student now has power, as Martin could say anything about what happened that night and in doing so destroy his career.
Marco Berger’s film is more interesting than truly successful. The movie deliberately plays with genres, setting itself up as a thriller with melodramatically creepy music and editing that suggests danger is around the corner. However the film assumes that by using certain thriller tropes, we’ll add the psychology of Martin being a nutter ourselves. However it doesn’t really work that way, so the horror movie music seems to have been dropped in from another movie. The film does do a good job of creating uncertainty over what Martin is up to, but in trying to manipulate the audience’s reaction to what’s going on rather than allowing it to come organically, it comes across as more puzzling than genuinely unsettling.
The end of the film does give a reason as to why the film is set up the way it is, but even so it feels unnecessary and untrusting of the audience, and to be honest, the final 20 minutes will be impenetrable to some people, especially if it merely seems to be showing them again what they thought they saw the first time. There are also some who may find the film’s interest in the random and unpredictable – particularly at one pivotal moment – to be a tad frustrating. Personally I liked it as it’s an interesting touch, but it will undoubtedly annoy fans of the straightforward.
However while Absent’s experimental side may not succeed completely, the core of the film does still work. As in his earlier Plan B, Berger is fascinated by what characters aren’t saying, asking the audience to question what might be going on in the character’s heads, and this works extremely well in Absent, allowing the film to breathe and the audience to wonder what people are thinking and in doing so, put themselves in their shoes. It’s a fascinating set-up and it’s difficult not to feel that if the story had been allowed to tell itself, rather than being forced to places it doesn’t really want to go, it would have worked better overall. Absent could have been superb and has instead ended up okay.
Overall Verdict: An interesting set-up and nice play with characters is slightly undermined by trying to make the movie something it doesn’t feel like it wants to be. It’s still an interesting film, if a slightly frustrating one.
Absent is released on DVD in the UK on April 9th, 2012, either on its own or in a ‘Made In Argentina’ set with Marco Berger’s previous film, Plan B.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac