Monday, August 13, 2007

Tough Love

Working with the trapping Christine Vachon visits in her seminal memoir, Shooting To Kill, the makers of the Spanish film Un Año Sin Amor (A Year Without Love) spin their meager budget to the best of their means by making their period piece (1996) on shoddy 16mm film. A Year Without Love (actually made in 2005) resembles so greatly a film of its target period that, to the initial glance, one may think it to have been made during the height of the New Queer Cinema. Its composure, too, is inundated with the droning and meditative pace of such works. A seemingly Spanish Grief, the film lacks the compassion and humor provided by the latter's "female" costars (Illeana Douglas and Jackie Beat) though it is all the better for it. Where Grief is self-indulgent in its turmoil, the very human Pablo Perez (Juan Minujín), a French instructor and poet, faces his HIV positive, loveless year with a depressive yet earnest candor.

Like the bulk of New Queer narratives, throughout the course of the film, we are treated to Pablo's musings on life through the diary he taps through his computer (when it still was, literally, a tapping of computer keys). For the first 45 minutes, we witness his resistance and final acceptance of the (then) modern medicinal cocktail. "Do they call it 'cocktail'," he muses "to make it sound attractive and so you picture a delicious nectar in a crystal glass with a cherry on top?" His dips in health and resistance to help are grating, but understandably so. Decidedly less lyrical than Ozon's recent Les Temps Qui Reste, the film is conversely more poetic - its sufferings robbed of Ozon's immaculate production. All ascension lies in Pablo's frequent visits to the seedier underbelly of Buenos Aires - porn theaters, leather clubs and cruise spots. His yearning and sex appeal is thwarted by fits of coughing and sweats. And then, of course, in a fleeting glance, we meet the potential exit from this loveless year: a master named Martin.

The strength of the film lies in its embrace of this dynamic. We have observed a modestly desperate (yet still fiercely independent) Pablo placing personals ads and looking for love (in all the wrong places). In Martin, he sees a romantic ideal though, as Bataille describes it, "in spite of the bliss love promises its first effect is one of turmoil and distress... chiefly to be felt in the anguish of desire when it is still inaccessible, still an impotent, quivering yearning." Martin is not seen as a man to whom Pablo might relate, but a fount of all desire. What's more, one who pour his carnal life into the contract games of S&M. When Pablo disappoints at Martin's casualness, his fragility is laid bare. To mistake this "master" (so enthralled in games of assumed roles) for a mate was a foolish venture to begin with. And this lesson pans open to the everyday approach of those seedling lovers we pass in bars. To endow all to an unknown variable is a child's game which we will play until we die.

And die he thankfully does not. The film is lite on such heavy handed gloom. The shot of his AZT pill dissolving into water is one of the film's most clinically beautiful. Though the last act betrays a great deal of the quite potency film had thus far achieved. In a defeatingly grander sweep, we find Pablo having published his diary, as in the words of the publisher, "Poetry wont sell... The life of a gay with AIDS, that might be interesting," alienating his family and himself. The final sequence finds him turning from those who might give him comfort and disappearing into his Genetian underworld. The camera lingers on the final shot for the viewer to bask in its metaphor, but unlike the minute humanities which we've been treated to thus far, it comes up empty. This close is far more fatalistically trite than some of the films more quietly glorious observances.


Anonymous simon said...

hmmm... sounds sort of similar to a book by Gary Fisher (He's a poet who was published posthumously). Gary in Your Pocket. It's fantastic

4:23 AM  

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