In a nod to Naruse, Argentine director AnahBerneri might have called her first feature When a Man Descends the Stairs, after the repeated image of a young man headed down a flight of steps to a gay porn theater. Pablo (Minujn) is a solitary poet living in a cramped Buenos Aires apartment with his childlike aunt (Ard); he gives private French lessons to teenage girls and takes out personal ads ("30, 5'8", 140, HIV-positive, big cock"), while his CD4 count plummets.
Set in 1996—when AZT was the last, best hope of the infected—A Year Without Love chronicles Pablo's indifferent pursuit of connection: He may want a boyfriend, but he's drawn repeatedly to the anonymity of the porn theater and the dark rituals of an S&M club. That is where he first encounters Martn (Van de Couter), a rugged young leather top with whom he grows infatuated. (Their split-screen phone sex—"I'm your slave, sir," "Lick my boots"—is the film's one cringeworthy misstep, and the weirdest telephonic foreplay since Doris and Rock's bathtub chat in Pillow Talk.)
Whereas so much contemporary gay cinema peddles pseudo-campy humor or bland softcore eroticism, Berneri's film, with its washed-out palette and desultory pacing, is unafraid to name loneliness as a fact of gay—make that human—existence. A Year Without Love is as bleak as its title promises, but it never feels less than honest. (Opens Fri; Quad.)—Tom Beer