The Absent


Nicolás Pereda The Absent (Los Ausentes) opens with a lengthy shot of a cow chewing before panning to an old man cooking in his house. The man then gets out of the house and stands still, the whole sequence consisting in just a couple shots.

This opening should give you an idea of what to expect, the only rare moments of dialogue coming in after 15mn and in the closing scene. As you probably already figured out, The Absent is an artsy piece moving at an excruciating slow pace and the main question is knowing whether this work is worth the experience it is inflicting to its spectators.

The storyline is as simple as its setting: an old man is about to lose his house, which is unlawfully located on public property, a few steps from a beach in Oaxaca, Mexico. It is important to know that the area is deserted and the house just a shack, Mr. Pereda emphasizing here that this is an absurd political decision, which I’m sure must be happening pretty often in these areas.

Other than that, this film is mostly composed of extended shots showing the old man in his house, in the forest or at the beach. The whole thing has a naturalistic, almost documentary-like feel making us experience a repetitive and monotonous life in a poor, rural environment. Surprisingly these long smooth shots are intertwined with sequences showing another – younger – man evolving in the same setting, living in the same house. The two men end up meeting at the end, in a revealing sequence showing them getting drunk over mescal.

This conclusion has a “look how I’m smart” kind of feel but, because the pace is so slow and uneventful, chances are you might have already figured out what was going on with these two characters. And this is probably a major screenwriting mistake as to really surprise your audience, you should divert their attention; rather here, with so many scenes involving waves on the beach and the wind blowing leaves, it’s not hard to pay attention to humans whenever we see them.

The other artistic attempt at surprising us comes when a fast song suddenly disrupts the otherwise quiet and natural soundtrack, bringing rhythm to another repetitive moment showing the old man cooking and stirring. Once again, this looks like another cheap shot at showcasing Mr. Pereda’s sense for artistry but it just falls flat.

As to whether those long sequences showing the two men or nature are beautiful enough to make art out of The Absent, the answer is no. These scenes aren’t striking or interesting enough to bring aesthetic appeal or anthropological value. And before some of you attack me for not liking something that slow, I wanted to remind you that I do enjoy meditative, naturalist and artsy works – there are quite a few of them reviewed here on Plume Noire – more particularly when they carry a message, bring emotions or seduce me with their creativity. However, The Absent is a tedious, empty, pretentious piece built on art-house clichés.

Director: Nicolás Pereda – Actors: Guadalupe Cárdenas, Eduard Fernández – Running Time: 1:20 – Year: 2014 – Country: Mexico
Click here to watch the Absent trailer
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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.