The absence we will be

Banksy, Nola (White), 2008


Commentary on the film directed by Fernando Trueba

Not only through stereotyped, rude and commercial series like Narcos (2015-2017) or Pablo Escobar, the evil boss (2012), both from Netflix, we can see the materialization of the violence that devastated Colombia in the second half of the last century.

If we specifically analyze Medellín, capital of the department of Antioquia, it is inevitable to evoke sinister and dubious characters such as the international drug trafficker Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria (1949-1993). Pablo Escobar rose from poverty to become one of the richest men in the world. Founder of the Medellín cartel, he made billions from drug trafficking from Colombia to the United States and Europe.

From this perspective, both good and bad people immersed in this dense and terrifying period were inhibited from seeing their story told in mass media such as cinema or TV, always for different reasons.

In the midst of this political-historical-social turmoil, a particular case is that of Héctor Abad Gómez, a Colombian doctor, university professor and human rights activist murdered by right-wing paramilitaries on August 25, 1987. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Colombia was going through one of its most violent phases, due to the territorial dispute between the Cali and Medellín cartels.

In the midst of this, paramilitary groups emerged, financed by economic and political interest groups. In this scenario, hundreds of human rights defenders, university professors and trade unionists were murdered – Although he spent his life teaching, without partisan preferences, Abad Gómez ended up getting involved in politics to try to implement public health programs.

On the morning of the day he was assassinated, Héctor Abad Gómez put a piece of paper in his pocket on which he transcribed the poem "Epitaph", by the Argentine poet, literary critic and essayist, Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). Threatened by paramilitaries, Gómez clung to the text, which says: “We are already the absence that we will be”. The paper was found by the son, who had time to feel the last heat of his father's face as he kissed him, on the street in Medellin where he was executed.

His absolutely unique life was recorded in a book written by his son Héctor Abad Faciolince, which under the title The oblivion of what we will be, sold hundreds of thousands of copies around the world, earning praise from great writers of the stature of J. M Coetze, Nobel laureate in Literature in 2003.

Fifteen years after the book was released, Gómez's unforgettable story came to life in cinema through the lens of sensitive Spanish director Fernando Trueba, in the feature Absence that we will be. Although its circulation was partially affected by the coronavirus pandemic and its strict restrictions, the 136-minute film got a new lease of life when it was released on streaming platforms.

The first question that arises here is whether the audience should first have read Héctor Abad Faciolince's novel to appreciate or understand the film. The answer is negative. Reading this text is not essential, as both in the structure and in the narration chosen by director Fernando Trueba, it will be easy to understand that we are facing the story of the deep love that a father can feel for his son and vice versa. From there, we are faced with a universal history.

The main characters in this feature are two. The first, played by Javier Cámara, is Héctor Abad Gómez, a caring and attentive doctor, but fundamentally concerned with the needs of his peers. He is the head of a large family, in which women are the majority. The second is his only son, Abad Faciolince.

The film is structured in two moments: the “present” (in black and white), in which we see how Gómez returns to Medellín from Italy – where he was studying Literature – to attend a ceremony recognizing his father's teaching work. Interestingly, the 1980s scenes are in black and white.

The director revealed that this was an instinctive choice, but it can be interpreted as a reflection of a darker and denser climate. It also highlights the contrast with the warm, colorful glow of childhood scenes that invite a sense of hazy nostalgia.

The second moment (displayed in color) shows the evolution of the Abad Faciolince family, with a professor of medicine as the head of the house, accustomed to not remaining silent in the face of social injustices, and to living in the middle of a city increasingly agitated by political violence. and social. The latter, obviously, will mean yet another risk that – as you can see in the film – everyone at home is aware of.

The drama also introduces us to other conflicts of this period in Colombian history, such as disputes between liberals and conservatives, coexistence with the Jewish community and the accelerated modernization of Medellín at the time, putting into question the traditional values ​​of an extremely religious society. The work tells the story of a Colombian Catholic and middle-class family from the point of view of a boy fascinated by his father, who differs due to his progressive view of the world and for being an atheist.

About the Spanish actor Javier Cámara, perhaps the praise for his multiple roles in film and television successes is superfluous. That's why we're going to comment a few lines about these two artists who play Héctor Abad.

First of all, the boy Nicolás Reyes Cano, who surprises with his remarkable naturalness throughout all his scenes. It is he who works as a kind of lens through which the viewer will get to know the peculiarities of his special family.

In one part of the film, after hugging and letting his father kiss his neck, one of his friends tells him:“Is your dad a fag?” To which he replies: "Why?" “Because only fagots kiss like that”, answer. After shoving his friend shut the mouth, refusing to wear a ridiculous helmet to ride a bike, hiding the art history books he uses to 'vent' his erotic concerns with pictures of sculptures, denying when forced to praying before going to sleep ("because otherwise he won't go to heaven") or jealous" because his father prefers his sister Marta, who knows how to dance and sing beautifully", the little one steals our hearts with amazing ease and paints his whole body how healthy and beautiful childhood is many times.

In second place, we have Juan Pablo Urrego (university student Héctor Joaquín), an actor who is also a native of Medellín and who, at just 35 years old, has already seen us in much more radical roles, such as when he played Popeye in the series based on the memoirs of Jhon Jairo Velásquez (1962-2020), the fearsome killer of Pablo Escobar Gaviria. If in that Caracol Televisión production we have an unscrupulous guy, capable of facing dangerous criminals in prison, in The Absence We Will Be their role is diametrically different.

Here, Urrego is a clumsy literature student who, raised in a family where women have always been the majority, cannot help but melt with filial love when he sees his father smiling at him from a distance during a tribute act. His performance is good, but no less effective or powerful for that. Although he seems aware of the risks his father faces due to his social actions and criticism of the system, he is not able to threaten him or force him to leave what makes him so happy. It is at this crossroads that he spends his days until the fatal outcome.

The Absence We Will Be it is an eminently human drama. While not a short film (over 2 hours long), it feels like this story could very well have been a series. Some moments give the impression of being short (such as Abad Gómez's time in exile), others have twists and turns without further explanation or development (such as when Tata is taken to the asylum, or when one of the family's daughters dies). But this is not a simple fiction story that could be stretched according to the needs of the writer or the studio. This is real life.

A life that undoubtedly deserves to be told.

*Vanderlei Tenorio is a journalist and is studying geography at the Federal University of Alagoas (UFAL).


The absence we will be [El olvido que seremos]
Colombia, 2020, 136 minutes
Directed by: Fernando Trueba
Screenplay: David Trueba
Cast: Javier Cámara, Alda Morales, Sebastián Giraldo, Nicolás Reyes Cano, Juan Pablo Urrego.

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