Absent: Berlin Review

Courtesty of Berlinale 2011
Sophisticated Argentine art film with a reverse pedophilia twist pumps up the artificial emotions.

Young writer-director-editor Marco Berger's Argentine entry skirts the edges of dull.

BERLIN -- Despite its original twist on the tired pedophilia topic, Absent skirts the fringes of dull and would be commercially dismissable, were it not for the edgy mixing job and hyped-up soundtrack that together create a sense of artificial excitement. On the plus side, young writer-director-editor Marco Berger, who explored adolescent sexual confusion in his debut feature Plan B, shows plenty of cinematic savvy and technique, which should encourage sales to niches interested in playing up the morbid theme of this Argentine art house entry. LGBT fests should take notice, though audiences cross gender lines.

Berger’s basic idea is to overlay an individual psychological drama with thriller elements. The result is a sophisticated film full of poetic time-shifting, but the final half-hour will be difficult to read for the average viewer.

The serious Sebastiano (Carlos Echevarria), a high school swimming coach in his 30s, is tricked into letting the scintillating 16-year-old Martin (Javier de Pietro) spend the night in his apartment. From a long way off, it is apparent that the boy is intent on seducing the teacher, whose heterosexual inclinations waver when faced with the not-so-subtle appeal of young Martin sprawled near starkers on his couch.

Though the audience pegs Martin as jailbait and a hustler from the start, Sebastiano is a decent fellow who takes a long time to figure it out. EnterCarolina Canevaro’s soundtrack and Pedro Irusta’s score, injecting the drama with pulsating Hitchcockian elements of anticipated horror. There’s even a shower sequence, with poor Sebastiano soaping up while Martin’s threatening shadow passes by.

Here the threat is not only a legal one directed at the risk of Sebastiano being arrested for entertaining a minor in his home – and Martin has left behind all the clues needed to frame him. It’s also a psychological threat to Sebastiano’s unexamined heterosexuality.Tension mounts with each sickening development that seems to embed him in a web of guilt. His girlfriend (Antonella Costa, like Echevvaria a lead in Garage Olimpo) is too distracted to get to the bottom of his evident distress and confide the terrible things that are happening to him. Then, just when it’s time for Martin to start blackmailing the innocent gym teacher, the script takes a wide, welcome turn and drives off into the land of Freud.

The small cast is well-chosen and de Pietro, in his first film role, is a real discovery who opens up his character of Martin in ever surprising ways. Excellent tech work enwraps the characters in a smouldering atmosphere of hidden menace.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 11, 2010.
Production company: Oh My Gomez! Films
Cast: Carlos Echevarria, Javier de Pietro, Antonella Costa, Rocio Pavon, Alejandro Barbera, Luis Mango.
Director: Marco Berger.
Screenwriter: Marco Berger.
Executive producer: Pablo Ingercher.
Producer: Mariano Contreras.
Director of photography: Tomas Perez Silva.
Production designer: Paula Lombardi.
Sound: Carolina Canevaro.
Music: Pedro Irusta.
Editor: Marco Berger.
Sales Agent: Rendez-vous Pictures
87 minutes.