A Year Without Love

English Title: A Year Without Love

Original Title: Un año sin amor

Country of Origin: Argentina

Studio: BD Cine, Strand Releasing

Director: Anahí Berneri

Producer(s): Daniel Burman, Diego Dubcovsky, Maximiliano Pelosi

Screenplay: Anahí Berneri, Pablo Pérez, Susana Silvestre

Cinematographer: Lucio Bonelli

Art Director: María Eugenia Sueiro

Editor: Alex Zito

Runtime: 95 minutes

Genre: Sex and Gender

Starring/Cast: Juan Minujín, Osmar Núñez, Javier van de Couter

Year: 2005

Other Information:

Composers:
Leo García

Martín Bauer

 

 

Format:
Colour, 35 mm


Synopsis:

Pablo Pérez is an HIV+ poet who lives in Buenos Aires with his aunt in an apartment his father owns. He teaches French to earn money, and hopes to publish his writing. He also craves a relationship. Pablo visits various doctors to treat his persistent cough and HIV. He undergoes several tests and refuses to take AZT. Pablo finds sexual release by visiting porno theatres and underground BDSM clubs. He encounters a handsome stranger named Martín several times, and is enamoured with him. When Pablo becomes involved with Báez aka ‘the Sheriff’, who runs an S&M sex scene, he is able to secretly arrange a date with Martín, which may develop into a relationship. Meanwhile, Pablo meets with a publisher who expresses interest in his diary about this life with AIDS. Just as things are looking promising for Pablo, the Sheriff discovers Pablo and Martín’s relationship and is distressed. And when Pablo’s diary is published as a book, his father disapproves and asks him to move out of the apartment. With a renewed sense of self-worth, Pablo strikes out on his own.


Critique:

A Year without Love is an astonishing drama based on the published diaries of Pablo Pérez. What makes Berneri’s film so compelling and moving is the absolute humanity of the main character. He is the gay everyman, someone looking for love and acceptance, but also insecure and stubborn. Pablo chronicles his life with HIV, what he calls ‘this monstrous porno disease’. In the film’s opening scenes he struggles with writing newspaper ads – one for teaching French to earn money, the other an invitation for sex, if not love. Pablo admits that he is not sure ‘who I am’, or ‘what I am looking for’, but it is clear that he deeply desires physical contact and an emotional connection.

 

In fact, most of the sex Pablo has is with strangers on the floors in a nearby porno theatre. Sex for Pablo is not just a physical release, but also an escape from reality – from his lack of money, bickering with his aunt, treating his disease and not having anyone to love. Berneri portrays these episodes – his diary entries – that comprise Pablo’s life beautifully, focusing on his daily routine with an intimacy that engages. Watching Pablo cough and sweat in bed before going to the hospital for treatment or waiting anxiously for a phone call from a potential fuck buddy are forceful moments because viewers share his sense of restlessness and angst. His conversations about money with his father, or his discussions with his doctor about refusing to treat his condition with new cocktails (the year is 1996) also heighten the sense of urgency and despair regarding Pablo’s situation.

 

Despite his difficulties, Pablo does live in hope – of finding love, of surviving his illness, of publishing his writing. One night he has a wordless exchange with a sexy young man named Martín. Pablo becomes smitten with him, and as a participant in the BDSM scene, is thrilled to find out that Martín is a master looking for a slave. Pablo is all too willing to give himself over to the object of his lust. His slave behaviour – wanting to be controlled – is a parallel for the control HIV has over him. In one of the film’s best scenes, Pablo calls Martín to arrange a meeting. Their naughty chat – shot in a seductive split screen – has Pablo practically licking Martín’s foot through the phone line. A few moments later, the two men meet in Pablo’s apartment for an incredibly hot and sexy tryst.

 

Significantly, the sexual activity in A Year without Love, which features several S&M scenes, includes a rather graphic montage in which Pablo witnesses episodes of flogging and domination. These scenes do not shy away from depicting the reality of the practices, and the film does address issues of safety and trust. Although some viewers might be taken aback by a scene shot in close-up in which Pablo, nearly naked and handcuffed has his bum and nipples teased by a knife, others will most likely be extremely turned on. A Year without Love is incredibly erotic, in part because Minujín is so fearless in his role. The appealing actor gives a tremendous performance as Pablo and he is adorable when he smiles, having naughty thoughts about Martín, and empathetic when he undergoes tests for his disease. Minujín tackles this tough role with incredible grace. He also rises to the challenge of performing the BDSM sequences. Credit is also due to Berneri, who films the kinky scenes as artfully as she does an AIDS cocktail pill dissolving in a glass of water. Even when Berneri is depicting the seamier sides of gay life, this is an extraordinarily beautiful film, thanks to Bonelli’s exquisite cinematography.

 

A Year without Love may take a leisurely route to its pivotal dramatic moments – most of which occur in the final reel – but the film is so mesmerizing up to this point that it yields an almost unexpected power and poignancy that resonate. This is a fantastic, penetrating film, and while perhaps difficult for some to watch, extremely rewarding nonetheless.

  

A version of this review was originally published in Gay City News, 6 February 2006.

 

Author of this review: Gary M Kramer