Leap Year (Año Bisiesto) (18)
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Time Out says
Tue Nov 23 2010Trying to get your first film on screen is a challenge for anyone, not least in these financially tough times. Michael Rowe, an expat Aussie who ended up in Mexico City, realised that no fairy godmother was going to appear with a big pile of money for his debut feature, so he tried to work out how to tell a compelling story with a minimum of resources. Restricting the action to a single location and keeping the cast list short were essential – but how to keep an audience interested in a story unfolding in one room? The answer is blindingly obvious – sex. Pervy sex indeed, which would generate controversy, yet also, perhaps, bring its own set of pitfalls.
That Rowe picked up the Camera d’Or for best first feature at this year’s Cannes is one indication of the extent to which he’s succeeded in crafting a drama which isn’t hamstrung by its challenges and manages not to come across as exploitative in its sexual forthrightness. It shows what you can do when emotional understanding and storytelling craft become the ruling factors in a project, filtered through performers who can truly do the material justice.
Monica Del Carmen is thoroughly believable – a somehow ordinary yet sympathetic screen presence – as lonely freelance journo Laura, stuck working the phones in her compact city apartment, displaced from her family in the provinces, and looking longingly at the lovely old couple in the courtyard below and the twentysomething lovebirds in the flat opposite.
A string of unfulfilling one-night stands barely take the edge off Laura’s isolation, but she really begins to connect with the brooding Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez Parra) when his penchant for meting out sexual punishment chimes with her facility for taking it. Afterwards, they share moments of affection and understanding, but their physical relationship seems headed for a very dark place…
Given the actors’ unstinting commitment to all that’s asked of them, the film is far from easy viewing. Some will certainly be uncomfortable with a male director giving us a female heroine so compliant in her own sexual subjugation. What’s telling, however, is the time Rowe allows for us to grasp the poignant psychological imperatives guiding Laura’s challenging choices. ‘Leap Year’ impresses in the way its economy of detail – admittedly with an occasional suggestion of contrivance – still fully conveys this troubled woman’s underlying pain and how it connects with the consensual extremes unfolding before us.
In that respect, you can read it as a female equivalent of ‘Last Tango in Paris’: here’s a similarly courageous, soul-baring piece of cinema whose troubling eroticism is ultimately a vehicle for humane compassion.
Author: Trevor Johnston