Marco Berger's two films, his debut feature Plan B (2009), followed by Absent (Ausente), are being released this week by Network Releasing as part of their excellent Made In... series.
In Absent, his most recent feature (2011), a drama depicting the complex relationship formed between Martín, a 16 year old boy in Buenos Aires (Javier de Pietro), and Sebastián (Carlos Echevarría, a well known Argentinian actor), his sport male teacher, in an out of school swimming club, Marco Berger explores the teenager's sexuality, expressed in his crush for the sport coach, and the developing and complex feelings that Sebastián has for the boy, which goes from questioning and brow raising at the beginning, as he is followed everywhere by his eyes, to anger, as he realized that the injury to the eye that Martín claimed to have suffered while being in the pool, which led to a trip to the eye clinic, was no more than a ruse to get closer to him, to test his reactions, as was the subsequent inability to get back to his home, after a series of excuses. As a result of them, Sebastián lodges the boy for one night in his apartment, as he is not prepared to leave him in the street, although he feels uneasy about it because of the impact it could have in his career, in his relationship with his girlfriend Mariana (Antonella Costa, who has been defined by Marco Berger as the “actress of her generation”), and his reputation in the neighbourhood where he lives.
During his stay at Sebastián home, and unknown to him as he sleeps, Martín sensually caresses him, expressing his own feelings by this act. On his part, Sebastián is not entirely sure how to handle the young boy, and the reactions he is getting from his neighbours and the gardener, as they both leave the apartment block in the following morning. Once in the school, in the gossips of the rest room, he learns that the police had been making enquiries, as a student did not go home the previous night, his parents being in utter despair. Sebastián, realizing that the student is Martín, feels extremely uneasy, and keeps his head down. However, when he later on finds the boy lurking around his car, confronts him and expresses his anger, accusing him of lying, and culminating in a slap to his face. We are here into Mamet's territory, as the power relationship between student and teacher switches in favour of the former.
Meanwhile, Martín, with his obsession for Sebastián, does not realize that he is, in turn, the object of affection from Analía (Rocío Pavón), a girl of his own age with whom he has been a friend since both of them were little kids. She, not being aware of the course that the development of Martín's sexuality is taking, insists in hanging on with him. We are now in the territory of complex, ambiguous and forming feelings and identities that the youngsters are developing. Marco Berger certainly has that magic touch of celebrating the complexity, and beauty, of these feelings in just a few frames.
The relationship between Sebastián and Mariana progressively gets more distant and fragile as he struggles with his own feelings towards Martín as time flows, culminating in the final scene where he finally declares his love for the boy, who, at that point, is no longer able to reciprocate.
During the shooting of Absent, Carlos Echevarría (Sebastián) found difficult to film scenes which were apparently easy, while in others, which were supposed to be more difficult, such as the final one, when he meets Martín for the last time, in his imagination, after he breaks into the swimming pool, he just sailed through. Javier De Pietro, a young performer just out of Acting School, is very convincing as Martín, while Antonella Costa (Mariana) adds that bit of glamour.
Absent is certainly a more mature, and ambiguous, work than Berger's debut feature, Plan B, a comedy of sexual manners, a ménage à trois, where the path that the two male protagonists, Bruno (Manuel Vignau) and Pablo (Lucas Ferraro) is marked from the very beginning, the question is not being when the pair are going to get together rather than if, ditching on the way the third participant of this arrangement, Laura (Mercedes Quinteros). In Absent, Berger's treatment of the subject, of the development of male sexuality, is more subtle, almost every scene ending in a cliff edge, myself not being entirely sure what was going to happen next. Plan B is much more straightforward: Laura has ditched Bruno, as she thinks he is, frankly, an idiot, in favour of a photographer, Pablo, whom she considers to be more serious. Yet, she still occasionally sleeps with Bruno.
Oh the life of this young Buenos Aires people!
Bruno, then, with the advice of his friend Victor (Damián Canduci), decides to put plan B into action, which consists in befriending Pablo, in making him fall for him, abandoning Laura, so that he can reclaim her. However, plan B fails, as most of them do anyway, as he also falls for Pablo, after being taunted in parties by a free spirit girl, Ana (Ana Lucía Antony). The result of all this is that Laura get ditched by both men, who end up as a couple. Mercedes Quinteros' performance as Laura conveys the idea of a strong and free spirited woman who can take these actions in the chin, as Mercedes says in an excellent interview contained in the extra features of the DVD, she is not the one who we can pity her with the words. Oh poor girl she is not.
The score for Absent is just brilliant, almost being a complete work by itself, embodying the complex emotions that are visually expressed in the film, being created by the young Argentinian composer Pedro Irusta, whom Berger met at University. Irusta also composed the score for one of Berger's shorts, Reloj (Clock).
Both films are well paced, particularly in Plan B Berger uses shots of buildings, or fragments of buildings, to let the comedy “breathe” between key scenes, and also conveying the background of the urban life of a metropolis such as Buenos Aires, which is essential for these stories of urbanites, and their life styles.
Both Absent and Plan B explore the theme of the development of male sexuality towards other males, they are not gay films as such, but works that convey how heterosexual men can become entangled in homosexual relationships. Because of this approach, Berger has refused to submit them to Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals, as he does not think them as Gay films. They are not, certainly, militant works.
Marco Berger represents, perhaps, a new generation of Argentinian film makers, as he writes, directs and edits his own films, the three fundamental pillars of auteur cinema. Overall, he keeps to the scripts he had written, with very few changes made during shooting, mostly minor, if at all. He is currently in the preproduction stages for his third film, the first one where he will have a female protagonist. I would not say that he is actually enjoying to be mixed up with the Argentinian arts bureaucracy, a novel experience for him, but, certainly, coping with it.
With thanks to Marco Berger for agreeing to be interviewed.
Made In Argentina: Absent and Plan B DVD set, is on sale in Britain courtesy of Network Releasing.
The second feature by Argentinean director Marco Berger, is a psychological thriller. A provocative twist on a familiar scenario – it explores the complex relationship between a teenage boy’s obsession for his sports teacher - played out in an atmosphere of escalating sexual tension and menace. When Martin hurts his eye during a swimming class, his instructor, Sebastian, takes him to hospital. On leaving, Sebastian offers Martin a lift home but, as Martin had arranged to spend the night at a friend’s house, there will be no-one expecting him. He insists it would be better to spend the night with Sebastian. As Sebastian takes charge of the student, he is dangerouslyunaware of the boy’s true intentions: that Martin has engineered the entire situation in order to stay at his instructor’s home…
CAST: Carlos Echevarria and Javier de Pietro
Special Features on MADE IN ARGENTINA – TWO FILMS BY MARCO BERGER:
- The making of PLAN B
- English interviews
- Una Ultima Voluntad (A Last Wish) – short film
- Deleted Scenes
- Image Gallery
This film is included in MADE IN ARGENTINA - TWO FILMS BY MARCO BERGER and available separately.
Bruno is dumped by his girlfriend. Behind a calm, indifferent exterior, his mind plots a cold, sweet vengeance. She, a modern girl, continues to see him once in a while, but has another boyfriend – Pablo. Bruno becomes Pablo’s friend, with the idea of eroding the couple, perhaps introducing him to another woman. But, along the way, the possibility of a Plan B arises. It may be a more effective one – and it is also one which will put his own sexuality into question, taking him into the secret, unexplored places of his own heart.
Set in Buenos Aires, this witty, beguiling feature masquerades as a familiar romantic comedy, only toconfound expectations by testing the boundaries of gender and social demarcations. PLAN B is Marco Berger’s first feature film.
CAST: Manuel Vignau and Lucas Ferraro