Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review | "Leap Year (Año Bisiesto)"

A fair warning to all comers - Michael Rowe's Leap Year (Año Bisiesto) is NOT a romantic comedy starring Amy Adams, despite sharing the same English title as the Adams vehicle from last year.

In fact, we're just about as far from romantic comedy territory as it is possible to get in this raw, sexually frank journey into Hell. Hell, in this case, being the day to day existence of a lonely young woman named Laura, a 25 year old journalist living alone in a run down apartment in Mexico City.

Having moved away from her family in Oaxaca, Laura has been stuck in an aimless existence, away from everything that was once familiar. She has no friends, no close family, and essentially no life. When her mother calls, she makes up friends and plans that don't exist, filling her life with the imaginary schedule of a girl far more confident and settled in life.

Instead of going out with friends, she sits at home watching TV over a sad dinner of canned beans, or watches the happy couple across the courtyard while masturbating, dreaming of a human connection, of some modicum of happiness. Her only human interaction comes at night, when she goes out in search of sexual fulfillment, coming home with a different one night stand every time, most of whom rarely even know her name. It's a sad existence, but her desperation outweighs her better judgement, with her pursuit of anonymous sex counteracting her pursuit of love.

Then one night she brings home Arturo, an aspiring actor with a sadistic streak. Their first encounter leaves her shaken, but soon discovers that Arturo's domination excites her more than scares her. Together, the two of them embark down a dark and dangerous road of increasingly degrading sadomasochistic encounters that will lead her to a strange kind of healing - two kindred spirits who fulfill a need in one another that will either heal them or destroy them both. In this most dangerous game of sexual Russian Roulette - there can be no in between.

Leap Year is no easy film to watch. It's a graphic, intense experience that pulls no punches in its depiction of Laura's sexual self destruction, but it's also a very wise evocation of loneliness. It captures a lost young woman adrift on the stormy seas of life, spiraling out of control with unblinking honesty. The two leads throw themselves completely into their roles, and their dedication is astonishing. Laura is homely and plain, the type of person you wouldn't look twice at in the supermarket. Yet she spends most of the film completely naked, exposed and vulnerable, seeking acceptance of who she truly is at any cost. When the source of her depression and her ultimate solution is finally revealed, we have been drawn into her world, and the results are devastating.

The film's action never strays from Laura's sad little apartment, just as trapped by its peeling walls as she is. Rowe never judges her relationship with Arturo, instead placing his camera so as to be an impassive observer. He doesn't shy away from the explicit details, but we are left to our own judgements. It's often repulsive, yes, but Rowe ultimately discovers a strange beauty in the connection they find together. Rarely has sex been so deeply unattractive, but it's real, it's honest, and it's painfully, achingly true. Pain seems etched in every line of Laura's prematurely careworn face, and her sexual masochism becomes an extension of her inner turmoil. Leap Year is a window into a troubled soul that is as revolting as it is engrossing. Rowe's debut film is a powerful and wrenching experience distinguished by an uncomfortable emotional veracity that is nearly impossible to turn away from.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

LEAP YEAR (AÑO BISIETO) | Directed by Michael Rowe | Stars Monica del Carmen, Gustavo Sanchez Parra | Not rated | In Spanish w/English subtitles | Opens Friday, 6/24, at Cinema Village in NYC.

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