'The Absent' ('Los Ausentes'): Morelia Review

Courtesy of Festival del film Locarno
An atmospheric if extremely niche and highbrow arthouse item

The latest of Mexican avant-garde director Nicolas Pereda ("Summer of Goliath", "Greatest Hits") is set in Oaxaca and involves an old man being forced out of his home

A solitary man in his seventies is expropriated from his beachside home -- or rather, hut -- in The Absent (Los Ausentes), the latest film from avant-garde Mexican director Nicolas Pereda (Summer of Goliath, Greatest Hits). Again favoring extremely long takes, an elliptical approach to narrative and very little dialogue, this will be right up the alley of Pereda’s highbrow admirers on the fest and academic circuit but won’t do much to convince offshore distributors to take a gamble on a tonally atmospheric but extremely niche and hard-to-market title.

The first shot of The Absent indeed starts without the protagonist in the frame. As the camera moves backwards, very slowly, it becomes clear that the leisurely chewing bovine first seen is but a part of what constitutes the view outside the window of the film’s nameless protagonist (Gabriel Lopez Jose),  who, it is revealed as the camera keeps crawling backwards, is sitting at a table inside his very humble abode.

Not all that much can be gleaned from this first, minutes-long shot, apart from the fact that the man seems to be quite poor, judging by his home (it later emerges that the house is close to the Pacific in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, which might lend the property more real estate value than the actual dwelling currently on it). The very deliberate way in which the shot slowly adds elements to the mix also suggests that it might pay to closely examine the visuals for potentially enlightening clues.

One of the two key pieces of information needed to make some sense of what little narrative there is comes in another minutes-long shot, this one tracking sideways through a sort of courtroom where a local property commission’s ruling on a particular piece of land is being read out. Combined with a later shot of the destruction of the old man’s home, it becomes clear he didn’t have the deeds to his land and is thus forced to leave. The justice-building scene is noteworthy because the single (if admittedly very long) take contains more spoken words than the rest of the film combined.

The second clue to deciphering what is going is the presence of a young man (Pereda regular Gabino Rodriguez) at the same house, who has the same habits, such as doing domestic duties in a specific way, and the same few belongings, such as an old gun, as the old man. The clearest explanation for this would be that he’s a younger version of the protagonist, which would in turn lead to the very intriguing notion that, after he’s been forced to flee from what used to be his home, the old codger actually runs into his younger self. The way the film ends, cutting to black after the old man asks the young man a very pertinent question, seems to reinforce this theory.

Is the man simply reminiscing about the past or is he going senile? The film’s too elliptical to give any definite answers. Despite a constant, documentary-like attention to rather mundane acts, cinematographer Diego Romero Suarez’s use of camera movement and the length and succession of shots as assembled by editor Aina Calleja, impart the proceedings with a quite lyrical or at least a clearly expressive touch. In this light, it seems more probable that there is a more poetic explanation, such as the idea that to cope with the loss of his physical household in old age, the old man seeks refuge in the memories of happier times. As a youngster, he seems to have been extremely solitary, as well, but at least he had a small place of the world he thought his own.

Production companies: Film Tank, Tornasol Films, Cine-Sud Promotion

Cast: Guadalupe Cardenas, Gabino Rodriguez, Eduard Fernandez, Gabriel Lopez Jose

Director: Nicolas Pereda

Screenplay: Nicolas Pereda, Mendoza Alejandro

Producers: Daniela Alvarado, Thierry Lenouvel, Edgar San Juan

Director of photography: Diego Romero Suarez

Production designer: Nohemi Gonzalez Martinez

Costume designer: Nohemi Gonzalez Martinez

Editor: Aina Calleja

Casting: Viridiana Olvera

Sales: Caravan Pass

 

No rating, 78 minutes

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