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A Good Mexican Film … From an Aussie

25 Oct, 2011 By: Angelique Flores

The other night I watched the gripping drama Año Bisiesto (Leap Year), just released on DVD from Strand Releasing. No doubt it was great filmmaking, but it went so much deeper than that for me.

Año Bisiesto tells the story of a young freelance journalist, Laura, who lives alone and works from home. This reminded me of my own days as a freelance journalist working at home in my PJs too, but the similarities between us ended there. Laura is an isolated woman in Mexico City, whose nightly outings end in her bringing home men who use her for the night.

Then she meets Arturo, a sensitive, aspiring actor who shows genuine interest in her and doesn’t rush out the door once he’s finished his business. Their love grows, while at the same time they develop a sadomasochistic relationship. (This reminded me of a more serious Secretary with hints of Almodóvar’s Matador.) Things take a strange and sad turn when Laura asks Arturo to take their dangerous game further to her own demise.

Don’t let the sexy box art here fool you. The sex here isn’t pretty, but it feels pretty real. The entire film felt more raw and real than much of the reality TV out there. There was no artistic photography or fancy lighting, or even any scenes outside Laura’s apartment. Yet, the film couldn’t have been more engrossing, which speaks volumes of the script, the director and the two stars, Monica del Carmen (Babel) and Gustavo Sanchez Parra (Rabia, 7 Soles, Man on Fire).

Noteworthy to me was that del Carmen isn’t tall, thin and fair-skinned. Rather, she has indigenous features, cinnamon-colored skin and some meat on her bones. And yet, she’s not a maid or a cook or a poor person. She’s a smart, working woman with issues just like anyone else — OK, her suicidal issues are probably a little more serious than most.

Also impressive was that this film — shot in Mexico in Spanish — was made by a first-time filmmaker Michael Rowe. Even more impressive to me is that Rowe is an Australian, and he gets the Mexicanness of things right. Granted, he has lived there for 16 years. But I still find it amazing when a director from one country or culture can accurately portray and infiltrate the culture of another. My pal Youssef Delara, a Persian filmmaker, deftly did that with his Latino-themed drama in ESL. And Rowe does it here.

So many times, U.S.-Latino filmmakers get ripped for using stereotypes, overdoing the struggling immigrant story and dragging the Latino genre down. And often, I agree. Why do foreigners get it better than we do? I’d love to see more Latino films like this — but made by Latinos here in the United States. For now, I’ll be looking to see what other Mexican films Rowe makes.

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