Leap Year (Ano Bisiesto)
Serious exploration of troubling subject matter
Set almost exclusively within the four walls of a gloomy Mexico City apartment, this minimalist chamber drama is the debut feature of Australian-born writer-director Michael Rowe. Its protagonist is the depressed Laura (Monica del Carmen from Babel), a freelance business journalist of indigenous origins. We’re soon aware of her loneliness and alienation in the capital: she lies to her widowed mother about the state of her life, masturbates while gazing out of the window at a young neighbouring couple, and crosses off the days on her calendar. And she begins a sado-masochistic relationship with an older man, Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez Parra): he relishes inflicting pain on her before and during intercourse, and she enjoys being the recipient of this punishment.
It’s tough to watch a vulnerable woman being choked, whipped, urinated upon and burnt by cigarettes at the hands of a male partner. Yet Leap Year is an undeniably serious exploration of its troubling subject matter, with its echoes of Last Tango in Paris and In the Realm of the Senses. The single setting heightens the sense of Laura’s emotional isolation, and Rowe reveals enough of her existence for us to understand why she might be drawn to such extreme activities. The rigorousness is extended to the film’s formal approach: there’s no soundtrack music (save for a song over the closing credits), and in the long takes the fixed camera keeps its distance from the characters. Above all credit must go to del Carmen, who produces such a brave and committed performance, which is shorn of all vanity.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 7–Thu 13 Jan.