REVIEW: DVD Release: Leap Year

Film: Leap Year
Release date: 28th February 2011
Certificate: 18
Running time: 92 mins
Director: Michael Rowe
Starring: Monica del Carmen, Gustavo Sánchez Parra, Armando Hernández, Diego Chas, Marco Zapata
Genre: Drama
Studio: Axiom
Format: DVD
Country: Mexico

Produced on an extremely low budget and the directorial debut of Michael Rowe, Leap Year has attracted some considerable controversy, an impressive degree of critical acclaim, and has recently won the Camera D'or Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Exploring the nature of loneliness and pushing the boundaries with its sexually explicit scenes, Leap Year proves an extremely daring film from this first time director.

The film chronicles twenty-nine days in the life of a Mexican, freelance journalist named Laura Lopez (Monica del Carmen). Almost entirely shot in her cramped apartment, the film explores her lonely, isolated existence and emotionally detached sexual encounters with numerous men.

Laura's life seems to consist of nothing more than eating cheap tinned food, secretly masturbating over her neighbours and conjuring up fantasies of a non-existent social life. This last point is illustrated during various phone calls with her mother, in which she proves herself to be a prolific liar, explaining how she has prepared steak for dinner, when in fact she is eating baked beans straight from the tin, and describing close relationships with friends who evidently do not exist.

However, a calendar hanging on her apartment wall, the last day of the month coloured red, offers a hint toward a haunted past. Laura marks off each day of the month religiously with a black cross, counting down to the 29th February, a day which is of particular significance to Laura.

Unexpectedly, after various sexual encounters, she meets a man named Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez Parra), with whom she begins a strange, sexual relationship. Both engage in acts of sadomasochism, their encounters becoming more violent in nature as the film progresses.

Rather than being a romanticisation of sadomasochism, the film explores her motivation to perform degrading sexual acts and hints toward sexual abuse during her childhood. As the 29th approaches, the film offers some of its most explicit and disturbing scenes, delving into the darkest parts of the human psyche…

Michael Rowe has admitted that the main reason for the film being set entirely within Laura's apartment was due to a lack of funding. It would certainly seem that, given the film's preoccupation with loneliness and isolation, the low budget worked in its favour. The effect of shooting the film in one location, and offering only three actors with speaking parts, certainly enhances the viewer's ability to relate to Laura's isolated life.

However, Rowe's minimalist approach expands beyond this; the film consisting entirely of static shots. There are no camera movements and many scenes are shot using just one camera angle. This doesn't seem to be a result of a low budget but more a decision of the director to keep the focus strictly on the actors and their performances.

Rowe's willingness to place the film's success solely in the hands of its three actors was a bold move, but a move that more than pays off. Rowe's casting of Monica del Carmen and Gustavo Sanchez Parra for the main roles cannot be commended enough. Whilst Parra offers depth to a character we are, for good reason, told little about, Carmen appears to throw herself into one of the most disturbing roles depicted on screen. In one scene, a mere distant gaze from her apartment window speaks volumes to the loneliness felt by her character, Laura. In another far more disturbing scene, she lies on her apartment floor whilst Arturo urinates on her, a scene which pushes many boundaries whilst offering a graphic demonstration of her own self-loathing, a product of her distant past. With such graphic scenes of humiliation, escalating as the film progresses, it is a testament to Rowe's directorial skills that Carmen would put so much trust in this first time director.

With minimalist cinematography and all focus directed toward the actors, the film's linear direction also helps enhance the relationship between the viewer and Laura. Rowe has written a script which keeps the viewer engaged in a way that many films fail to achieve. At no point does the director employ the use of flashbacks or present the narrative in a non-linear fashion. Instead, Rowe offers insights into Laura's past via telephone calls and conversations between the two main characters. This alone is applaudable, given the fact that many films, often lazily, use flashbacks and fancy editing to offer depth to the their characters.

Leap Year is a prime example of low budget filmmaking at its very best. In fact, it demonstrates how some films can benefit from a reduced budget. The film tackles some truly dark themes in a way many directors would not dare to attempt. Michael Rowe's directorial debut is visually impressive, features an extremely moving, if not disturbing, script and some incredibly impressive performances. ME

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