Australian-born Michael Rowe made his directorial debut in this 2010 Mexican drama "Año Bisiesto" [Eng. Title: Leap Year]. I so wanted to see this during one of its screenings in the UK, but work kept me away, so had to wait for the DVD to be released to watch it.
It's a sad but beautiful film dealing with several complex issues such as loneliness, particularly urban solitude, marginalisation within 'mainstream society' due to gender or ethnicity, and also a plea for love. And what better setting than the biggest urban zone of all, with its deep set divisions within - Mexico city. The director had lived in Mexico for several years and has used his intimate knowledge of the city and its culture to tell us the story of Laura, a Mexican native American.
A migrant from the provinces, Laura makes a living as a freelance journalist in Mexico city. She lives alone, on the verge of depression, and in her desperate search for intimacy and companionship, has meaningless sexual encounters with various men. Her loneliness is exemplified through the vicarious pleasure she takes in watching a young couple living opposite displaying affection for one another. She craves for a similar affection, never having experienced it before. Every time her mum or friends call, she lies to them about herself, trying to portray herself as living a far more interesting life than she thinks she is.
Laura had now reached the point where she wants to end it all, and set herself the end of the month to accomplish her task, February the 29th - the same day her father died four years earlier. It's not coincidental that the date of this post would have been February the 29th too, had this been a leap year.
We get to the next phase of the film, when Laura meets Arturo. During their first night, they somehow 'connect', and they meet again. While Arturo thinks he'd found someone on whom he can act out his sexual fetishes, Laura endures them willingly due the deep state of intimacy these intense sex sessions bring. The long post-coital scenes on the couch are just as important as the sex, as this is when they get to know each other intimately. The sex sessions however intensify by the day, until the 29th of February arrives, the day she had set for her death, and Arturo is to help her end her existence...
Apart from two scenes in a supermarket, the entire film is shot from inside a small flat. Laura's. The air of claustrophobia is adequately illustrated using simple but effective directorial and cinematographic techniques. The acting from both the lead characters is excellent, especially Laura, played by Mónica del Carmen, and the storytelling is simply captivating. This film was made on a shoestring budget, but put together beautifully with care and devotion, a feat greatly appreciated at Cannes last year when it deservedly won the Camera d'Or.
Now that the DVD is out - there's no reason not to buy it, not only for the fine film but also the interesting points Director Rowe raises in his interview. Please treat these scenes below as a sampler - if you like them, buy the film. Highly Recommend Viewing..!
Laura brings along a guy after an evening out. No sooner does he catch his breath after sex, the guy's asking for his pants...
When Laura brings home Arturo for the first time, a bond develops without them realising - it's as if he knew what she wanted, which he was only too happy to give. The sex scenes here however are not erotic - there is palpable sadness displayed in laura's emotions. But Arturo cares about Laura, and she knows that too.
The infliction of pain during sex appears to have a cathartic effect on Laura, and the sado-masochistic element of their sex sessions intensify. The post-coital scene is however moving, when Arturo asks Laura to tell something she had never told anyone before.
Laura welcomes him in the nude as usual, but Arturo asks her to clear the room, slaps and 'forces' her to masturbate as he urinated all over her. When he asks her later how it felt to be pissed on, she smiles and says, "it felt warm" - the warm feeling in sharing an unmentionable secret with Arturo, something very personal that they could tell no one, that intimacy is what she had craved all along. She also discloses in their sofa-chat that she lost her virginity when she was twelve. In their next session, Arturo burns her with a cigarette, and she puts up with the pain - she is ready to accept whatever is coming to her whenever the doorbell rings. In the last part of this compilation, she turns down work opportunity from a publisher, lying to him that she's emigrating to Switzerland to work at the embassy there.
This is a disturbing scene. Laura welcomes Arturo this time holding a kitchen knife - she wants him to cut her. He hesitates. During their customary chat, she masturbates him while describing how it would feel to actually mutilate her while making love. She suggests he could if he wants even cut her throat, and come inside her dead body. The scene is explicit, but it is not the least designed to titillate, unless you are one of those who need help. I have also appended an unrelated shower scene towards the end.