A woman sits alone on a chair at a table in a room on one of the top floors of an asylum. Bright spot lights dot the night, sometimes shining on her window. She sharpens pencils and writes ... See full summary »
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A woman sits alone on a chair at a table in a room on one of the top floors of an asylum. Bright spot lights dot the night, sometimes shining on her window. She sharpens pencils and writes on a page in a copy book. The pencil point often breaks under her fingers' force. She places broken points outside the window on the sill. A satanic figure is somewhere nearby, animated but of straw or clay, not flesh. She finishes her writing, tears the paper from the pad, folds it, places it in an envelope, and slips it through a slot. Is she writing to her husband? "Sweetheart, come." Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Short | Animation

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31 December 2003 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Távollét  »

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| (Leipzig DOK Festival)

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2.35 : 1
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A strangely beautiful abstract calligraphy of psychosis.
21 March 2017 | by See all my reviews

By far one of the Quay Brothers' most haunting works, 'In Absentia' depicts the suffering of a late nineteenth/early twentieth century mental asylum patient, Emma Hauck, who would write letters to her husband by pencil over and over on the same piece of paper, until the sheet resembled a strangely beautiful abstract calligraphy of psychosis -- an unintentional work of art. That the letters' sense of hopeless, desperate scrawling depicts an eternal reaching into the void for her husband to rescue her from herself -- a relief that could never arrive -- is chilling.

The use of light in the black and white film is exquisite, flashing like lightning or electrical charges -- as if Hauck's overheating and tortured brain were illuminating secrets in the darkness that sanity seeks to hide from us for our own preservation. The repetition of the breaking pencil represents the 'brokenness' and futility of her own mind, which is trapped in a hopeless cycle.

Karlheinz Stockhausen composed the music for 'In Absentia', creating the ideal other-worldly musique concrète score of ambient voices, rupture, madness and unreality; these sounds complement both the tone of the film and the set, which resembles a bleak alien landscape. Stockhausen, who was reduced to tears when viewing the film, being reminded of his mother who was exterminated by the Nazis, suggested that, in a role reversal, he had written the images and the Brothers Quay had created the music.

The dress worn by Alice Krige's neurotic headmistress who suffers a breakdown and dies in the Quay Brothers' 1995 film 'Institute Benjamenta' returns in this film, in a suggestion of psychological continuity.


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