Sunday, 13 February 2011

Berlinale 2011, Day 4, Forum: L'Ausente, Marco Berger, Argentina 2010

In Ausente (Absent) Argentinian director Marco Berger turns the issue of child abuse on its head as in this case it is the child - or rather a 16 year old school boy - who falls for his teacher rather than the other way round. The boy, Martin, goes to great length in his attempt to get into his teacher's trousers, inventing a string of lies with the ultimate aim to be able to spend the night at his teacher's house. Though spending the night at his teacher's Martin does, nothing happens between the two. Things come to a head when the teacher, Juan Pablo, realises that he was being lied to. He punches Martin in the face, but it is evident that he does so not out of disgust for being the object of Martin's desire but because of Martin's dishonesty which, if found out, could potentially cost him his job. Subsequently, Juan-Pablo is going through the motions, first for having allowed his anger to get the better of him and, also, for fear that having allowed Martin to spend the night at his place may lead to his dismissal. However, out of the blue Martin dies by falling off a roof, though it must be added that in my own interpretation it is suicide, a suggestion Berger dismissed in the discussion following the screening of the film. However, as Berger deliberately leaves the spectators a lot of room for their own interpretation, and because the film is almost entirely shot from the teacher's perspective and as a result, it is never quite clear how Martin feels, prompting me to interpret his sudden death as suicide. Suicide over his unrequited love for his teacher as well as over the grief he caused him. Equally open is the film's ending which again, is open to various interpretations.

What is not open to interpretation is the film's message (for lack of a better word ...), which results from the last images when we see Juan-Pablo kissing Martin gently on the lips. Something which may have happened in Juan-Pablo's imagination or something that actually occurred prior to Martin spending the night at Juan-Pablo's house, who's to know ...? But what the film seems to say is that, even if it did happen, what's the big deal? If it's with the consent of both, so what? A kiss is just a kiss ... Or is it? But that, too, is up to the viewer to decide. But given its topic, I'm sure Berger's film will nevertheless spark a fair amount of controversy for any number of reasons. To me, it is quite simply a very beautiful, very poetic film, giving an old - albeit relevant - story a new and interesting twist.