Flat Rollercoaster

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Review of 'A Year Without Love', director Anahi Berneri

I wanted to like this film. It is, after all, the diary of an HIV positive gay man, Pablo, set in the mid-1990s in Argentina just before the arrival of combination therapy. Pablo decides to write a diary to chart his life. He is also into casual sex in pornographic cinemas, and develops a taste for S&M sex and roleplay after he joins a leather sex group. Oh, and of course he is also looking for love. So it's not what you would call a family film.

It is the same world covered by the work of the US photographer Robert Mapplethorpe or the art performances of Ron Athey, but in the style of grimy realism. The main problem with this film was that it was so drab and miserable. The form and content don't so much clash as fail to meet.

On one level you are expected to empathise with the hero Pablo, and of course we can all be a mesh of contradictions - in the case of Pablo, seeking love and a nice cuddle as well as a well hung master and whipping. But here the Pablo who is a sensitive poet and the Pablo who wears a dog collar are never explained or his desires explored. Now this is obviously not an easy thing to do, but at least the sex should be sexy or shown as exciting, or something other than drab and akin to sitting in a waiting room. Casual sex can be shown to be at least exciting, as in Prick Up Your Ears, the film about the doings of British playwright Joe Orton, or cold and lustful, as in Mapplethorpe's work. Here the sex is... well, it's just here. He must like it, but you never know. There isn't even a hint as to why, or any of his lust.

Pablo's life is in fact a flood of dramatic events and an emotional rollercoaster - falling CD4 cell count, his conflict with having to live off his family and with his aunt, unspoken-of family drama, not to mention the thrill of the gay scene. But through it all Pablo seems to operate as if he was catching the 7.39 train to London Bridge. There is little Latin passion to be seen. He is just so reasonable and nice through it all, with so many things never said or spoke about that it out-represses the most repressed of English middle class families - and this is supposed to be his intimate diary?

The film is as if someone had seen too many Fassbinder and late Warhol films, but without the humour and thrill that these great films have. Here, gritty realism doesn't add to anything to any exploration of passion, but creates a barrier to empathy. The alienation of everyday life just acts as a dulling and drabbing down, taking your attention away from the content of the film - which is, after all, lust, death and the thrill of the sexual chase.

So what is there good about the film ? Well, it avoids stereotypes and is very amoral about everything, so much so that I found it passionless, but I suppose its intentions are good, and it is good at the significance of the glance and meaningful look, and... er, that's all.