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by By D. W.

Love in the Time of HIV - a film review

Helen Robertshaw

Translated Thursday 27 April 2006, by Helen Robertshaw

Argentina. An encounter between a poet and a woman film director as they tell the story of one year in the life of a young man who is HIV positive and in the process of rediscovering the freedom to love.

A Year Without Love , directed by Anahi Berneri, Argentina 90 minutes

A Year Without Love, the first feature-length film by this woman director is, among other things, the film adaptation of a work of autofiction. In two of his novels, the author Pablo Perez presents the reader with a protagonist by the same name. He collaborated in writing the script of the film, which is set during the year 1996, a transitional period in the treatment of AIDS.

The principle character Pablo, played by Juan Minujin, is a young poet, as yet unpublished. Homosexual and HIV positive, he is reluctant to use the recently introduced triple therapies. In Buenos Aires, he shares an apartment with his slightly crazy aunt and spends his time writing his diary. The film by Anahi Berneri does not merely rely on the power of suggestion but involves a very detailed and intense portrait of the main character. The film-maker shadows Pablo as he pursues his everyday life, thus recording his visits to the hospital, where he is obliged to have frequent consultations, and showing scenes where he frequents gay bars, as his sexual desire is reawakened. The director explores these two separate worlds in an objective but not entirely detached way, where the gay bar scene gains more and more significance as the film progresses. In fact, as spectators, we are invited into the intimate space of the characters and this impression is reinforced by the graininess of the image in 16-millimeter format, specifically chosen by the director in order to create this effect. The director, who is as unfamiliar with the gay SM scene as she is with the feelings of exclusion and isolation caused by the disease, maintains a respectful distance between herself and her subject and including during the sex scenes which are filmed in a natural and unaffected way.

A Year Without Love is a textual as well as a cinematographic and visual work of art and is constructed using various fragments, such as pages from the character’s diary, computer screens, magazine covers, pictograms, his social-welfare file and hospital card. These are recognisable enough to enable identification and thus situate the film firmly in the realm of reality whilst at the same time distinguishing it from documentary in the strictest sense of the term.

In the film, Pablo’s lover, whom he meets on a trip to Paris and who subsequently dies, is called Hervé. This is clearly a reference to Hervé Guibert, a French poet who died of AIDS and who will be remembered for the autofiction that marked his literary career. Pablo, who has been given the chance to live, continues to read Neruda.

Article published in l’Humanité, 19 April 2006


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