Leap Year NEW 72dpiIs this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant and/or through the iTunes Store? Leap Year is available for rent through both Netflix Watch Instant and the iTunes Store.

Starring: Monica del Carmen, Gustavo Sanchez Parra, & Marco Zapata

Directed by: Michael Rowe

Screenplay by: Michael Rowe & Lucia Carreras

First, do not confuse this film with the 2010 American comedy of the same name starring Amy Adams. The one I am reviewing may cause you to hang yourself out of sheer depression whereas the other film is only likely to lessen your IQ. Please also dispel any notions you, my faithful readers, may have about my attitude towards small, indie and foreign films. It would be a mistake to assume I do not like these types of movies based on my recent reviews where I have given high recommendations to big-budget Hollywood films and harsh critiques to smaller, more obscure films. In fact, I usually prefer watching independent and foreign films over bigger budgeted films. It is purely coincidental that my recent viewing habits have resulted in the more mainstream films being better than the less mainstream ones.

So with that long disclaimer, let us proceed. Living in a big city (and by big city I mean a BIG city such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and cities that feel big like San Francisco and Washington, D.C.) can be a fun and exciting experience for any young, single person. Such cities generate an in-the-moment vibe that makes you feel like you’re experiencing the best life has to offer and that you are living in a sort of cultural and intellectual epicenter. At the same time, for all that they have to offer, life in the big city can also be epically lonesome, especially if you move to the city without really knowing anyone or having any family members.

Leap Year (Ano Bisiesto) is about one such lonely person, a young journalist named Laura (Monica del Carmen). Living in a cramped and rundown apartment in Mexico City, Laura leads a banal life in which she has no friends or family living near her. Laura vicariously fills her empty life by observing the lives of her neighbors. When her family calls to see how she is doing, she falsely paints them a picture of a busy and cheerful lifestyle – a lifestyle she fantasizes of having. At nights, Laura fulfills her sexual desires by bringing home strange men to have one night stands. Until one night, she meets Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez-Parra), an aspiring actor who has a penchant for S&M. The two of them develop a strange and troubled relationship in which the sexual encounters increasingly become more disturbing.

The winner of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival’s Camera d’Or (this award is given for the year’s best first feature film that is presented in one of the Cannes’ selections, which are Official Selection, Directors’ Fortnight, or International Critics’ Week), Leap Year is Australian director Michael Rowe’s first feature film. Although he is Australian, Rowe has been living in Mexico for the past 16 years so presumably he has developed quite a bit of insight into Mexican culture. Aspiring filmmakers take note: Rowe was 37 years old when he made this film so any bullshit about how film distributors won’t bat an eyelash at you unless you are in your 20’s is just that – bullshit.

With the exception of the opening sequence, the rest of the film is shot entirely in Laura’s small, claustrophobic apartment. Michael Rowe’s intention behind this film was to shoot a low-budget (the budget was approximately $700,000) ‘two-people in a room’ kind of film with a sexual element in order to attract Mexican audiences. Does it work? I had no interest in the film’s S&M element. Once Laura meets Arturo and they begin their disturbing sexual relationship, the story devolves into just another sex film in which the main character resorts to kinky sex to fill some void in her life. We have seen this character motivation in a countless number of movies. It no longer has the shock value that it once had and using a “tried and true” trope ignores the vast possible number of other ways a character like Laura can deal with her solitude and loneliness. Basically, I don’t think that introducing a sexual element in your story just to hook in audiences is a good enough reason to have it in your film. I like to give audiences a bit more credit than to assume they only want to see films with sexual content.

A film like Leap Year heavily depends on strong performances. You only have three characters in the film and the film mostly takes place inside a small apartment. So your focus of attention is primarily on the characters, especially on Laura. Monica del Carmen gives a good performance. I do not know whether she is a professional actor, but she is natural in the role and appears to fit right into her character. She does not have an attractive face or body, which made me wonder how in hell she was able to bring home a different guy night after night (then again, perhaps my American-influenced ideal of an attractive woman differs from what is considered to be attractive in Mexico). It is depressing and sad to see how her character just goes through the motions of her daily life without seeming to make any concerted effort to get herself out of her situation, whether it be career-wise or socially. She goes through these motions automatically as she sits in front of her TV every night and watches whatever is on and goes through the same line of ‘how-are-you-everything-is-fine’ questioning every night on the phone with her family back home.

When Laura meets Arturo, we see her alive for the first time. Arturo’s sadomasochistic desires turns Laura on and she begins to look forward to what sort of sexual adventure Arturo will present her with upon their next meeting. It is almost heartbreaking when Laura finally asks Arturo to commit the ultimate sadomasochistic act, which is to kill her and essentially put her out of her lonely existence. Monica del Carmen conveys Laura’s desperations, loneliness, and general ordinariness very bravely because these attributes are not ones that make an actor look attractive in any way. In addition, the actress is overweight and the role requires her to be completely naked in many scenes. I admire the actress for taking on a role such as this in which she has to be so plain.

As for Gustavo Sanchez Parra, who plays Arturo, we do not learn very much about him other than that he is an aspiring actor. Most of the scenes the actor is in are dark (because Arturo usually appears at Laura’s apartment at night) so we also do not see his face very clearly most of the time. I wanted to learn more about the character. I wanted to specifically know why he is into sadomasochism and generally what his background is (does he have a wife, kids, etc.). There is not very much for the actor to do here based on what was written for him and I felt that he was merely just a device for the audience to learn more about Laura.

Leap Year ultimately lacks purpose. By the end of the film, there is no strong understanding of who the characters are. For example, Laura has marked February 29th on her calendar as a special day. We know that her father died on that day, but we never understand what significance this holds for Laura or what sort of trauma she is experiencing because of it. She is clearly depressed and presumably part of her depression has something to do with her past family history involving her father. However, we don’t know what that and so we cannot sympathize with her. The director tells his story at a slow burn (Arturo is not even introduced until about an hour into the movie), but once we reach the end, the payoff at the climax is too little and Laura does not arrive at any revelation other than the small fact that Arturo is not going to come anymore and he is certainly not going to help her die. What we learn at the end is the same as what we knew at the beginning and for that, Leap Year becomes an uneventful portrait into a lonely and depressed woman’s life.