The old adage, “you can never go back” is turned decidedly on its head in Carole Langanière’s masterfully crafted, ideally bilingual, Absences.
With last year’s Philomena and Gone: The disappearance of Aeryn Gillern—where missing loved ones are searched for with varying degrees of success, cross-reference below—as recent background, it is fascinating indeed to go behind the scenes with a quartet of “absence” stories that are artfully woven together into a cohesive whole.
Langanière’s impetus, sans doute, comes from her mother’s steady descent into the faraway world (it seems to us) of Alzheimer’s. One of the production’s recurring strands being phone messages from institutionalized Colette to her filmmaking daughter more or less begging for a visit or call. Truth is, both of those requests are frequently honoured; sadly they are not lodged into memory.
Croatian-Canadian immigrant, Ines, has finally found the courage to revisit Dubrovnik where she and her family routinely dodged bombs and bullets (then took swims in the sea as a tonic against the terror and carnage) during the 1990s war. She’s checked into the same—now considerably refurbished —hotel where, along with her parents and brother, they remained for over four years, learning not to complain about shortages of everything. Here, the drama comes from a long-put-off reunion with her mother who, having sunk into the quiet joy of booze, abandoned her loved ones for a never-seen soldier in 1996.
What fun for a teenager to discover that his dad was a bank robber! But the romanticism soon wore off for Deni. The Canadian-American writer eventually understood that his secretive, desperate dad also robbed his son of any connections to a very large, loving family. To complete the familial swindle, the professional crook also changed his name/heritage from Edwin to André. (The recollection scene between Deni and his centenarian grandmother is one of several “read between the lines” retelling of long-lost events in the film.)
Finally, it’s a sister’s love for her vanished sibling (Nathalie continues to e-mail Marilyn despite having heard nary a word in close to five years) that fuels the near-hopeless task of finding a missing soulmate (or was she?: sadly, but honestly, some people choose to disappear for reasons those left behind will likely never comprehend).
Using visual devices and set pieces (beds being made, tissues used or fresh, vacuuming, bodies of water) and an especially sympathetic original score by Luc Simard, the production, ultimately, tells a singular story. But perhaps more appropriate than Absences, it’s the distance between the principals (look no further than Colette staring into a realm that only she can see) that strips away the masks and lays these souls bare. JWR