Monday, June 27, 2011

Leap Year

The Australian filmmaker Michael Rowe won the 2010 Camera d’Or at Cannes for Leap Year, which recently opened at Cinema Village. The film’s production values are minimal, walking the fine line between low-budget expediency and esthetic choice. But what may seem rough and unpolished to one viewer may feel like gritty realism to another. Laura (Monica de Carmen) is a business journalist from Oaxaca who is trying to eke out a living in Mexico City writing articles with names like “30 Tips to Beat the Recession.” She is a peculiar variety of voyeur who masturbates not while watching people in flagrante but while looking in on enviable scenes of domestic bliss, as when the couple across the way snuggles while watching TV. She also peers in on an elderly couple who live in the courtyard below. By night, she endures a series of seemingly joyless one-night stands. Things take a turn when, after being fired from her job, she picks up Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez Parra), with whom she begins a sadomasochistic affair involving, among other things, burning, golden showers, whipping, cutting and eventually a fantasy of necrophilia in which she invites Arturo to “come inside of me while you watch me die.” The leap year of the title refers to the fourth anniversary of Laura’s father’s death, and provides the etiology of her death wish in the same way that the death of the Brando character’s wife in Last Tango in Paris furnishes the essential bit of back story for the self-annihilating sex that film depicts. But Leap Year is more disturbing than Last Tango, Pasolini’s Salo, which features scenes of coprophilia, and most recently Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void, which vividly enacts an abortion sequence. What is most disturbing is the absence of artifice and invention. Films that feature extreme paraphilia can derange the senses à la Rimbaud, but what could be more disturbing than old Gloucester blinded and helpless or Oedipus with his eyes plucked out? Rowe’s film is clinical without being cathartic. Leap Year is definitely not porn, but it’s imaginatively constrictive, providing little room for anything resembling release. The claustrophic feeling is exacerbated by the intrusive quality of realism. We watch the character wiping herself after urination and picking her nose, but the intimacy is gratuitous and unrevealing. A therapist listening to Laura would have his work cut out for him—particularly since his patient’s bedtime reading is Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.

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