Thursday, July 7, 2011

Leap Year

A bracing, sexy and bold film from Mexico, from first time writer\director Michael Rowe, Leap Year (Ano Bisiesto) is unsettling, but assured, possibly a birth for a future big name in international cinema.  Rowe won the Camera D'Or (Best First Film) at last year's Cannes Film Festival.  What's striking about the film, aside from its very adult and frank sexual content, is the accomplished look and feel of the film.  It flows effortlessly, almost painfully, creating a raw, authentic, achingly lived-in sense of time and space.  What's also striking, especially coming from a debut filmmaking and novice actors, are the elongated shots that feel almost intrusive; there's an odd sense of voyeurism on display in Leap Year; we are watching the most deeply private and volatile moments of the life of the main character, a reporter named Laura Lopez (played with raw and naked abandon, with an aura almost childlike by Monica del Carmen.)  The scenes play out beautifully and slowly, with little visual hemming and hawing, suggesting a confidence that few filmmakers (even many of the very best) ever have the nerve to showcase.  The stillness adds to the alienation and discontent of its leading lady, and unsettles more and more as the film delves into dark and frightening territory.

Laura is an unhappy single woman, unhinged but composed either by will or psychosis.  We follow her through the month of February, hence the leap year, and learn the sad and painful resonance the day brings to her later on.  Laura cooks, and watches television, makes phone calls to her mother and brother, insisting her life is much happier and less lonely than it really is, at first the film kind of plays out like a dramatic Bridget Jones, but Laura is far kinkier and more troubled.  Her hobby of sorts is going from one night stand to the next, most of the guys she brings home have no interest in her; she has less interest back-- sex is just a release, a sense of control and empowerment, not exactly pleasurable and surely not romantic.  One night she meets Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez Parra), who surprises Laura by daring to become close.  Their relationship is the center of the film and as the movie goes on, it becomes stranger, abusive (whose abusing who is the ultimate question), dangerous, slightly disgusting, and strangely sweet.  This is one of the few films that actually delves head on into the raw power of sexuality this side of Last Tango in Paris, and while certainly not for the faint of heart, there's something altogether thoughtful, titillating and sad in Leap Year's frank depictions of sex.  As Laura and Arturo's relationship grows, and the sexual acts become more and more deviant, there's an odd romanticism to it, that's lovingly underplayed.  The power of Leap Year is just that, as well as the sad and poignant mystery to the leading lady.  She's elusive, and even after spending a month with her in her apartment (the film has only one primary set), we've only just cracked the surface.  A-

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