A Year Without Love Review
Based on the real-life writings of Argentinean writer Pablo Pérez, a young HIV positive gay man, Un Año Sin Amor is based on his published diaries that simultaneously record the progress of the author’s search for love through sadomasochistic encounters and the dangerous decline in his health caused by AIDS. With both paths taking him to the extremes of human experience, this inevitably is not easy viewing.
Living with his aunt in a house provided by his father, Pablo is a writer and a poet, but makes a little money on the side giving French tutorials. He attends a clinic that monitors his illness, but is reluctant to take the medication offered. However, the disease is starting to take its toll on him in the form of mycoses, coughing and a dangerous weakening of his immune system. He is lonely and looking for someone in his life who will lend it a sense of stability, but he is addicted to a routine of pornography and casual sex that he cannot escape from. His personal ads aren’t attracting the kind of people he wants to meet, so he decides to start replying to other people’s notices and becomes involved quite deeply in the gay S&M scene.
It must be a temptation when dealing with such extremely powerful material to strive to shock or emotionally manipulate the viewer. I would imagine that, for example, in the hands of a director like González Inarritú, this type of material would be depicted with unrelentingly grimness and gut-wrenching melodramatic angst that is often mistaken for realism. Anahi Berneri however finds a more human level to work on, showing real people coping with extraordinary circumstances and making them a part of their everyday life.
The strength of the film then is in showing, through Pablo, how people are capable of adapting when placed under situations of extreme duress. Pablo is looking for love and security that he cannot find through conventional means, so his needs become - through a relationship with one of the men he meets at one of the S&M group’s leather parties - a relationship based on master and slave roles. His reaction to his illness obviously plays a defining part in his needs. Pablo’s writing and diaries then become another outlet for his condition – recording his progress and decline both in love and health – and it forms the mediating means by which in describing and defining what he is going through, he can better cope with it. When his works are published however and read by his immediate family, Pablo finds that the writings which have supported him, now contribute to making his circumstances rather more difficult.
Pablo’s matter-of-fact depiction of his circumstances also makes A Year Without Love much easier for the viewer to relate to, and in fact it all becomes almost quite mundane in its everyday depiction of family disputes over things like using the telephone, disapproval over a family member’s behaviour and one person’s search for love. This is quite deceiving as it is undoubtedly the intention of the writer and the director to show that no matter how far people can be pushed in their search for love, support and understanding and in their necessity to deal with a life-threatening disease, that they are all must inevitably be reduced by human nature to a level where they can be defined and managed.
A Year Without Love is released in the UK by Peccadillo Pictures. The DVD is Region 2 encoded and is in PAL format.
The picture quality on this release from Peccadillo Pictures is excellent. It’s a strongly contrasted image with heavy grain – all suggesting a 16mm film stock – but the film handles it exceptionally well, and the film’s subject matter benefits greatly for it. Colours are strong, accurate and detailed and there is sharpness and definition in the image without any sign of edge enhancement. The grain could potentially cause a problem, but there are rarely any sign of the backgrounds breaking up through macro compression. I did have some problem with my review copy in that there was some noticeable pixilation during fast movements and scene transitions, but I would imagine this is a consequence of the film being copied to DVD-R for the checkdisc and would expect that it won’t be a problem on the retail DVD. If that is the case, then this transfer isn’t far off being perfect.
The audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and this is more than adequate for the film. The tone is clear and there is a nice touch of reverb on the narrator’s voice-over, which makes it warm and accessible. There is clarity and detail in dialogue and sound effects throughout.
English subtitles are provided in a clear white font.
The only relevant extra feature on the disc is an Director’s Introduction (2:18), recorded specifically for this DVD edition. Pleased to see the film reaching out around the world, she explains that behind the extreme elements of the film there is a simpler story of human emotions and the need for love. There are Trailers for other Peccadillo DVD releases and some very interesting looking future theatrical releases.
In her introduction to Un Año Sin Amor, the director Anahi Berneri asks that people look behind the trickier elements of the film and see the human story that lies beneath. I think she and the writer Pablo Pérez, whose story this is, achieve this quite well, with a simply told and even almost mundane story, devoid of false emotion or narrative trickery. That’s not to say that there aren’t some scenes in the film that are particularly difficult to watch or even comprehend the urges that lie beneath them, but I would imagine this would depend on how comfortable you are with graphic but fleeting depictions of various sadomasochistic acts, particularly in a gay context. Piccadillo Pictures DVD release of A Year Without Love gives the film a fine transfer that brings out its qualities, but does not have any supporting material or interviews that could help a wider audience relate to some of the more difficult material.