Marco Berger found great success on the world cinema and LGBT film circuit with his 1009 debut feature, Plan B. Now he’s back with Absent, which has had even more festival success, picking up the Teddy Award at the Berlin International Film Festival and recently getting one of the centrepiece screenings at the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. While Marco was in the UK for the LLGFF screening, we caught up with him for a chat about the film.
Absent is released on DVD on April 9th, via Network Releasing, and is also included alongside Plan B in a ‘Made In Argentina’ set, released the same day.
For those who haven’t seen Absent, can you tell us a bit about it?
It’s a story about a boy that is obsessed with a teacher and makes kind of a strange plan to be in his apartment. The boy says he’s damaged his eye at the swimming pool and so he asks his teacher to go to the hospital, and then the boy creates a situation where it seems like he’s going to be alone with nowhere to go for the night. The teacher asks his girlfriend what he should do, and she says to go to his apartment and let the boy sleep there. So after this first night, the teacher realises it was all a lie by the boy, but he doesn’t know why, and now they both have a secret and the boy has the power, as he can say whatever he likes about that night. It’s a thriller, with the teacher trapped in this problematic situation.
Where did the idea for the film come from?
I wanted to talk about the desire of the young people. The situation is the opposite of when you think about a teacher and a student. You think it would be the teacher who would take advantage of the situation or he would be the abuser. But here’s it’s the student who desires a lot, and his desire for the teacher grows, so he has the power.
Where did you find the two main actors, as they’re very good?
Javier De Pietro, the young boy, it was through a casting. I received a lot of pictures through the internet and I brought in just 10 boys. I tried him with the teacher and I liked it.
The teacher is the opposite of what I was looking for. I was looking for a blonde guy, a kind of Brad Pitt figure, but the actor, Carlos Echevarría, isn’t that. However he is a prestigious actor in Argentina and he called me and wanted to audition. I saw him and I liked him and I realised that it was better that he’s not a Greek god; he’s just a very regular guy. He could be a taxi driver, he could be anything, but the actor is very prestigious and very good. I got him and then I looked for the boy, and when I tried them together I like them very much.
There’s quite a long build-up of tension between the student and teacher. Is that that something that’s difficult to create?
Not really. I do the script and I do the editing, so I have something very clear in my mind from the start. It’s very difficult to explain how I do that, but in the beginning of the film, the first part of the film, I like to shoot the bodies, and create tension between the bodies even when they don’t speak. To create tension through uncertainty, though the student staring and the teacher not knowing what these things mean. When you study film they say, if you show a face and then show food, the spectator will put that together to think hungry, and here it’s the same. When you put the body of the student and then the body of the teacher, the spectator is going to create the tension and build up the idea of a sexual tension between them. I shoot it and work a lot in the editing on the timing of everything, but it’s difficult to explain.
I also like that, for quite a long time in the film, there’s almost two stories going on – one of what the teacher thinks is happening and one of what the boy thinks is happening – is that what you were trying to go for?
Well, I don’t want to talk about the second half of the movie too much, but actually that was the idea, to confuse the spectator and play with his head. I build a story about this crazy boy. So I’m first on the side of the teacher, helping the audience to create this idea of a kind of a monster, so the audience is thinking, ‘Oh this boy, what is he doing? How is this possible?’ So with the neighbour, with the guy in the street, with the teacher talking about the problem, I’m constructing a story that could go anywhere. It’s a thriller where you’re not supposed to know where it’s going. Then I like the other idea – what if you see everything again, without the helping of the thriller? I like playing with the audience, so that just because I put creepy music and set it up a little like a Japanese horror film, you construct the psychology of the student, but when you see the film again, the events again, you see it was a film about love, and not so much about obsession, and some creepy, crazy boy.
So it was on purpose to play with the spectator, to make people think about what they are seeing. So it’s like a fantasy, a game – you see this thriller, you see this danger, but what if you see things again, and see the other side of the story?
I did think that particularly with the music, as it’s quite an intense score, with different music it would be a very different film?
Yes, as I said, in the first part I wanted to work with the thriller genre, so I worked with the composer, who was the same guy who worked with me on Plan B, and we thought a lot about it. I said to him that you have to think that this is a terror movie, you have to put in the head of the spectator that something really dangerous is going to happen, so that you wonder what will happen if the boy touches the teacher, if the boy kisses the teacher, what is so dangerous? Nobody is going to kill anybody, but the music helps you construct this fantasy in your head.
Is it difficult to make films about gay themes in Argentina? How open to gay themes are people over there?
I don’t’ know. I think I came out with Plan B at a very good moment, as it went out at the same time as the issue of marriage between couples of the same sex was out there. So it was almost in the same moment. But I don’t think people are going to the cinema thinking they’re going to go see a gay movie, not even with Plan B. In both film I talk about people who have a problem, where it’s impossible to tell the story in another way – for example in Absent, if it was not a boy, if it was a girl, she would never sleep in the teacher’s house, and also in Plan B, if he wanted to take the other boy’s girlfriend, it’s impossible to tell it in another way. But audience don’t go in with the idea that they’re go to see a gay film, they just want to see a film, and then they realise that it’s a gay story. So it’s not so difficult, in Argentina at least.
You’re currently in the UK for Absent’s screening at the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. Are you excited to bring the movie to a British audience?
Yes, I am very much excited. I’m quite anxious and I hope people understand the point of the film and it’s a good reception.
Thank you Marco.