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In Absentia2000

  • 4.2
IN ABSENTIA is a remarkable collaboration between filmmakers Stephen and Timothy Quay and the celebrated avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (who composed and conducted the original music for the film). Shot in black and white (and, occasionally, color) in Cinemascope, IN ABSENTIA combines live action and animation with dazzling use of light to convey the mindscape of a woman alone in a room repeatedly writing a letter with broken off pieces of pencil lead, while outside her window vistas of ever changing light register her every emotion. The film is dedicated to "E.H. who lived and wrote to her husband from an asylum." IN ABSENTIA was produced by Keith Griffiths at Koninck for the BBC and Pipeline Films' series of short music films, "Sound on Film International."

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" of the most unflinching depictions of psychosis on film, and one of the most unnervingly convincing." - Michael Brooke, BFI Screenonline

2 members like this review

In a time when there seems to be so much reductionism applied to film it is refreshing to watch something that makes sense only in the moment. A bit alarming, but still refreshing.

Member Reviews (12)

In a time when there seems to be so much reductionism applied to film it is refreshing to watch something that makes sense only in the moment. A bit alarming, but still refreshing.

2 members like this review
top reviewer

Still my favorite Quay/squared. Sticks with you.

Better each time thru.

A shred of leather tie from another Q2 film makes an appearance.

They're not "man hands" they're covered in graphite from the pencils. What bothers me is why her neck and face are so clean when her hands are so filthy!

top reviewer

music is great _beautiful hypnotic film

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top reviewer

One feels no frustration or inadequacy when not being able to understand a piece of music. Even when the composer provides a few notes, these seem to add to the confusion of the moments. Visual things are, I guess, suppose to be more open to understanding in some set of terms (which may emerge from one's own mind and not the makers). But here the sound and the images are equally free floating, and remote from viewer, hearer, maker of images (and movements) and maker (and player of music). The few words on the screen at beginning and end try, and probably fail, to impose structure/plot on the experience. The seem to me to carefully impose an illusion of a plot. The piece is carefully built to make you find and construct an order on the experience, and fail. An interesting and frustrating 20 minutes.

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top reviewer

This is my favorite Quay Brothers movie. It's so beautifully haunting.

Unlike other Quay pieces, this one didn't age well. I feel like I been here before. It's basically the film from The Ring. And I know, The Ring came out after this and definitely took some inspiration from it but Ringu came out before this and the clip in that is better than both--and it doesn't overstay its welcome either.

This film is simply amazing, perhaps possibly due to the fantastic score of one of the 20th centuries great composers of art music Stockhausen. Without the score, this film would not have nearly the creates constant sustained and almost hypnotic tension, and the use of lighting and imagery in the film is very unsettling. Very well done.

renewing old acquaintances

grateful for the pot and booze . . .

Remarkable insanity


An absolute tour de force. I usually keep half an eye on what the Brothers Quay are up to, but I somehow missed this. Much credit due to the score, as well. Not to be missed.

Actually based, by the way, on a true story -- gonie inot in some detail in the Nwe York Review's article about the show they currently have up at MoMA:

There are things living in the walls, behind and under the world. They keep us moving, they keep us watching, they are waiting.