In 2013 Stephen Mangan sees himself in a 1961 art film.
We came across an amazing British short film made in 2013. It’s a 20-minute featurette entitled “L’assenza.” That translates to The Absence.
A middle-class British couple watches what looks like an Antonioni film on television from 1961. This nugget gave director/writer Jonathan Romney the great chance to make a satiric version of those existential Italian movies of the 1950s, whether by Pasolini, Antonioni, or Fellini.
The Italian movie is done with subtitles in glorious black and white with those arid, but rich, estates as the setting. The modern British couple is in color in their living room, later take in the movie at a revival house.
The wife alerts her apathetic husband that an extra looks just like him. The husband laughs it off as his “Uncle Aldo.” Yet, he becomes intrigued and researches the movie—to look for DVD copies (unavailable). He attends showings to learn his double is changing in every scene.
His curiosity becomes obsessive—and he must understand why the character, his Doppleganger, develops and begins to look out of the movie and directly at the young British viewer. In all subsequent screenings, he finds his character has a more expanded role.
His wife grows alarmed when he stays up all night to see the movie again and again, or to go out to the cinema to hang on the mercurial plot instead of work.
The film is utterly hypnotic and is like discovering Antonioni’s lost sequel to Blow Up or L’Avventura.
When the husband learns of a special screening in Paris, he takes the night train across the Channel to enjoy multiple viewings in French—until that pesky Twilight Zone ending comes to delight us.
Of particular interest to film aficionados and those who enjoy an intellectual challenge (often found in those existential Italian films of the 1960s), L’assenza packs an amusing power.