S&M Mexico-Style



Kate Gompert, the Ophelia character in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, awakes in a psych ward after ingesting "a hundred-ten Parnate, about thirty Lithonate capsules, [and] some old Zoloft," and notes, "I took everything I had in the world.... I wasn't trying to hurt myself. I was trying to kill myself. There's a difference." Laura (Monica del Carmen), the focus of Michael Rowe's blistering Leap Year (Ano Bisiesto), seems to be heading along the same pathway. 

Having escaped from the malaise of Oaxaca (a "hick town") to the urban pleasures of Mexico City, this 25-year-old bustles away as a business reporter for several local magazines, researching and filing her stories from home. Home, by the way, is a small one-bedroom plainly furnished, and the same could be said of Laura. She's average in attire, body, and imagination. However, in a dark club where drinks have been generously poured, her value as a one-nighter no doubt rises, or so her successes, who are brought back to her apartment with a discomforting regularity, would seem to attest.

Even more insular than Chantal Akerman's masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 BruxellesLeap Year only allows us to view Laura in her flat. So we get to see the men arrive and leave, but never witness the pickup. Through the doorway Laura brings them, at times watched by an admiring cockroach. There's the instant embrace, the heated kiss, the traipse to the bedroom, the panting away, and then the quick zippering up of the slacks before her dates run away to their wives or televised soccer games.

The next day, after Laura changes the sheets, she goes through her routines, including her daily calls from mom to whom she lies about how great everything is going. For example, Laura insists she's eating steak while spooning beans from a can. She has a boyfriend, and so forth.

But Laura is degenerating. She needs affection. She craves a man who will ask her name and then remember it. She needs to not to be used as an afterthought. Enter Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez Parra). He wants to know everything there is to know about Laura: her name, her daily life, when she lost her virginity.

Best of all, beyond his curiosity, Arturo returns and returns, and he even presents Laura with a tin-foiled candy. There is a downside though: Arturo is a sadist. From rough sex to hair pulling to facial slaps to beltings and punches and even urination he progresses -- and Laura accedes to his every whim, especially because after each session, the happy couple cuddle and chat.

Is there a limit beyond which matters cannot progress? And who is really in control here? And why is February 29, which is only a few days away, marked in red on Laura's calendar?

Winner of the 2010 "Camera d'Or" Prize for Best First Film at the Cannes Film Festival, Leap Year boasts a vividly raw performance from Ms. Del Carmen. There's no holding back here. Whether Laura's masturbating while peeping in on her neighbors' daily domesticities, playing big sister to her younger brother's romantic travails, or asking a lover with fondness, "Do you want some quesadillas?" she's sort of the shadow version of Anna Magnani. Frail, slumbering, and nearly inarticulate, yet hungry, seething, and Earth-Motherish. It's a powerful performance in one of the most explicit and shocking films of the past several years. 

(Leap Year was the closing night offering of the touring Hola Mexico Film Festival. It will be released later this month by Strand.)

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