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Two Mexican urbanites move to the countryside in the bucolic, sweaty and occasionally stormy relationship drama The Pleasure Is Mine (El placer es mio). This is the second feature from writer-director Elisa Miller, who won a Palme d’Or for her short Watching it Rain in 2006 and who here charts the sexy ups and depressing downs of a young couple who’ve moved to the middle of nowhere, where they don’t have much else to cling or talk to besides each other and the inhabitants of their chicken coop. That is, until the sexy prima of the male lead shows up and you just know things will go downhill from there. Unfortunately, at this point things become more problematic for the audience as well, though the actors impressively give it their all. Beyond home turf, this should see some action in the Hispanosphere and at festivals. The fact that director Fernando Eimbcke, who has directed festival favorites such as Duck Season, Lake Tahoe and Club Sandwich, is listed as one of the producers certainly can’t hurt.
Rita (Flor Edwarda Gurrola, Sexennial Plan) and Mateo (newcomer Fausto Alzati) are clearly in love or at least heavily in lust, as suggested by the fact Mateo goes to town on Rita’s nether regions before Pleasure’s first five minutes are over. What’s more, it’s just the first of several rather realistically staged sex scenes (interestingly, Mateo is much more objectified than Rita throughout, which was probably a conscious choice on Miller’s part). Not only the lovemaking is realistic but also the couple itself; in their slight fleshiness, they look healthy and, for lack of a better word, “normal,” with Rita’s full head of dark curls sharply contrasting with Mateo’s, whose unkempt, hipster-y excuse for a beard is longer than the buzz cut-length hair on his head.
The screenplay, written by Miller and co-writer Gabriela Vidal, is slow to reveal the details of the reasons behind the couple’s arrival in the small and Spartan country house. It finally emerges the place belonged to Mateo’s late father and the lovers are trying to survive in the countryside on barter instead of money. Mateo also likes to get his hands greasy repairing a beaten-up car in the gigantic but dilapidated greenhouse behind their humble abode that is the film’s most impressive location (it is expertly showcased by cinematographer Matias Penachino in the film’s sinewy opening shots and gracious but enigmatic closing pans).
Miller’s sex-first, explain-later setup certainly grabs the viewer’s attention and both leads have great presence and chemistry, so it’s easy to root for them even if not all details are immediately clear. The first cracks in their relationship also emerge organically from all the hot-and-heavy sex they keep having: Rita asks Mateo to come inside her and he’s shocked, since that might mean she probably wants to have kids. His very honest reaction: “Why? To continue a lineage of absent parents?”
Things are never quite the same after that moment and grow even more complicated with the arrival of Alexis (Camila Sodi, Tear This Heart Out), Mateo’s cousin who’s staying in her father’s house nearby. She has a small daughter but also a shared history and flirty demeanor with Mateo, asking him whether Rita is just a summer fling like the guy she’s brought over to her family’s summer cottage. Unsurprisingly, Rita’s not exactly impressed.
But the female lead’s escalating feelings about Alexis, Mateo and her own relationship with the man who apparently doesn’t even want her children aren’t charted with enough detail to feel fresh or insightful. There’s a sense Mateo is getting bored with Rita and she in turn starts to think that maybe she should start looking elsewhere. But the couple’s boredom with each other contaminates the tone of the film, which becomes increasingly boring to watch as both drift away from each other, perhaps for the wrong but also rather predictable reasons. The fact there’s a communication breakdown between the two doesn’t help either; they don’t talk and for audiences there isn’t enough material there to understand what either of the characters is really going through in any detail. The closest Miller comes is in an inspired turn of events that involves the visit of Rita’s busybody mom (Tina Romero), which also provides some light humor.
Clearer insight into the characters’ emotions would be especially necessary after an unexpectedly violent scene, which is otherwise chillingly staged using sound as a creepily quiet counterpoint, with Miller replacing screams and crying with the reassuring hush of the rain outside. Ideas such as these suggest she has a keen cinematographic imagination that might have been stretched a little too thin here by the awkwardly chronicled material but that nonetheless make her a filmmaker worth watching.
Production company: Cinepantera
Cast: Flor Edwarda Gurrola, Fausto Alzati, Camila Sodi, Tina Romero
Director: Elisa Miller
Screenplay: Gabriela Vidal, Elisa Miller
Producers: Christian Valdelievre, Jaime B. Ramos, Fernando Eimbcke
Director of photography: Matias Penachino
Production designer: Claudio Castelli
Editor: Yibran Asuad, Maria Calle
No rating, 80 minutes
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