DVD Review - Absent (Ausente)
|Carlos Echevarria (left) and|
Javier De Pietro in "Absent (Ausente)"
Javier De Pietro stars as Martin Blanco, a 16-year-old swimmer in Buenos Aires who through furtive glances or even stares at other half-naked boys and men in the locker room is realized to be gay or at least bisexual. The audience realizes this, but no one else does. It's dramatic irony within the film because Martin does have a girlfriend. People don't assume anything but Martin's disinterest in girls becomes apparent.
On a date with his girlfriend, Martin doesn't try to put his arm around his girl. He doesn't talk to her. He doesn't even look at her. He barely acknowledges her existence. He'd rather turn his head toward the man who is his school teacher, a man named Sebastián Armas, played by Carlos Echevarria. Sebastián teaches Martin's class and also co-coaches the school's swim team of which Martin is a part. Martin leers at several males. All of whom are more handsome or sexier than Sebastián, but Sebastián is the one that Martin pursues.
There's no explanation as to why. Martin might just have random lust that seems to focus on Sebastián because Martin realizes that he can play on Sebastián's sympathies. Martin essentially is able to get Sebastián to bring him home. Martin is even able to spend the night at Sebastián's apartment, all because Martin is like a lost puppy and Sebastián feels sorry for him and wants to help him. Martin then takes advantage to try to get into Sebastián's pants.
Martin isn't old enough to go to gay bars, but it must be possible for a teenager in the 21st century to find others like him in a city like Buenos Aires, especially since Argentina is the first South American country to legalize same-sex marriage. Perhaps, Berger is trying to say something about that very thing and the possible homophobia that prevents a teen like Martin to find other gay or sexually-questioning teens, but that's not the focus. This movie like The Crush (1993) hints that it could be about a lecherous boy in a same-sex relationship, but half-way through it, Berger changes perspectives and puts us strictly in the point-of-view of Sebastián.
Even when Martin is no longer around in school or the swim team, Sebastián is still thinking about Martin and one might argue that Sebastián even fantasizes about Martin. It even gets to a point that Sebastián apologizes to Martin and I didn't understand his apology because there's nothing for Sebastián to apologize. He didn't do anything wrong, unless Berger is trying to intimate that Sebastián is gay.
If so, Berger takes a round-about way of getting there. The tone that Berger takes is a bit disconcerting as well. Berger directs this movie at times like it's a horror film or he creates moods that makes the audience feel like certain scenes belong in a thriller. The opening musical score by Pedro Irusta definitely sets that stage. It then goes overboard later. There's even a shower scene that's played just like a horror film. One isn't sure if one of the characters is going to end up dead, even though that would make even less sense than what happens in the movie consequently.
We do get some really good performances from the two leads. Javier De Pietro was nominated as Best New Actor by both the Argentinian Film Critics Association and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Argentina. Berger is certainly taken with him as the writer-director lingers on the skin-exposed body parts of De Pietro.
Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended 14 and Up.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.
Here is Marco Berger's subsequent short film The Cousin (El Primo), a much better short film starring Javier De Pietro, which appears in the collection distributed by TLA Releasing called Sexual Tension: Volatile.