Leap Year: Film Review

"Leap Year," the freshman film by Australian-born, Mexican transplant Michael Rowe is a chamber piece in the strictest sense of the word.

CANNES -- Leap Year, the freshman film by Australian-born, Mexican transplant Michael Rowe is a chamber piece in the strictest sense of the word. Set in one room, with only three speaking parts, this character study of loneliness contains too much risque sex, however, to hope for anything but narrow art house distribution. (Each progressively extreme sex scene drove out more audience members in Cannes.) In the U.S. it would have to undergo major cuts to escape an X rating.

Rowe takes his time establishing the lonely rhythm of the main character's life: Laura (Monica del Carmen) picks her nose, masturbates watching the neighbors and eats a lot of canned food. Most of the information about her (her family, her job as a business journalist, that she moved to Mexico City from the rural Oaxaca) is supplied through telephone calls, the only contact Laura has with people other than the random men she picks up a few times a week wherever it is she goes when she gets dolled up.

Although she rarely leaves home, Laura lies to her family about her great social life, and even invents friends. She meticulously crosses off each day on her calendar, working her way towards Feb. 29, whose box has been filled in red for reasons that become clearer only towards the end. More than half an hour into the film, one of the men that Laura picks up, Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez Parra), actually comes back. The two slowly start a strange relationship based on violent sex, his asking questions about Laura's life that she rarely answers, and a lot of postcoital TV watching.

Arturo initially begins with a few slaps during sex but immediately ups the ante, to asphyxiation, belt-strapping, urination and even cutting. Not only does Laura have no problem with any of this, she wants Arturo to go even further, to do something that cannot be revealed without giving away part of the film's ending.

Rowe sidesteps any trace of eroticism to ensure that Leap Year is not about sexual perversion or the joys of S&M, but about a desperately lonely woman who, it is hinted, probably suffered a sexual trauma as an adolescent, which might have something to do with her father. All we know for sure is that Feb. 29 is the anniversary of her father's daughter, which occurred on the previous leap year.

What the director leaves unsaid, to the film's detriment, newcomer del Carmen fills in with a display of great talent and an ease in the many nude and sex scenes that would make even porn actors envious. The lonely Arturo is never very well explained (because Laura wants no details about him), but established Mexican actor Sanchez Parra manages to make his alternating tenderness and cruelty believable.

Venue: Festival de Cannes -- Directors' Fortnight
Sales: Pyramide International
Production companies: Machete Producciones, Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografia
Cast: Monica del Carmen, Gustavo Sanchez Parra, Marco Zapata.
Director: Michael Rowe.
Screenwriters: Rowe, Lucia Carreras.
Producers: Edher Campos, Luis Salinas.
Director of photography: Juan Manuel Sepulveda.
Production designer: Alisarine Ducolomb.
Costume designer: Adolfo Cruz Mateo.
Editor: Oscar Figueroa Jara.
No rating, 92 minutes.

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