Bedchamber Piece, by Jack Fleischer
It’s hard to write a review of this unique and unusual Mexican film because I don’t want to give any part of it away. The story sneaks up on the audience in Leap Year, and any plot information taken out of context would be wrong. This film is the definition of slow burn, and it all builds to a significant explosion. It’s a tough climax to watch, but this is not a flick for the faint of heart.
Perhaps this could be described as a strange collision between Groundhog Day, Secretary, and Babel … but of course none of that is accurate. There are no magical elements, and while there are twisted romantic parts it’s absent of comedy. As for Babel, it was the only dramatic mainstream US/Mexican film I could think of at the moment (sad). Leap Year (Año Bisiesto) isn’t any of these films — it’s every bit its own story, and it’s unlike any movie I’ve seen before.
We open on what seems an unremarkable woman (Monica Del Carmen, Babel) as she shops in a grocery store. She buys mostly instant ramen and wine, longingly eyes a man in another check-out lane, then exits the store. That opening is the last time we’re outside of her apartment.
In this average Mexico City flat we learn that it’s February in a leap year, as she begins to cross out the days on a wall calendar.
From there, each scene manages to be both infinitesimally small, and filled plot driving elements. Over the next 29 days, (or, according to press notes, 92 minutes) we wander around the apartment. We peak out the windows with Del Carmen’s character. We experience what seems to be her small and simple life. Of course … that’s a major over simplification (see first paragraph).
Native Australian (currently of Mexico City) director/co-writer Michael Rowe is a relative newcomer to the cinema, but his play writing background seems to color the film; for example his limited set use. It’s claustrophobic, but it also allows for all attention to be placed on Del Carmen and her primary co-star Gustavo Sánchez Parra (Man on Fire). They both do an amazing job, and to borrow a phrase, “you never see the strings.” The truly amazing thing for me was realizing how much I identified with the lead. I think a large part of that is because of Del Carmean, and as an average, middle-class, American male, I think this was impressive.
I haven’t mentioned this until now, because frankly it may scare folks off. This film has a lot of intense and violent sexuality (this has no relation to the above statement about me, btw). Don’t watch this with your parents; you may not even want to watch this with your significant other. There were many times where I caught myself audibly gasping and flinching. While aggressive and prevalent, the sexuality isn’t gratuitous, it’s absolutely part of the story.
This is a movie that will stay with audiences for a very long time, and more than reviewing it, I’d rather discuss it. Watch Leap Year, and let me know what you think of it in the comments below. Even if the intense sexuality scares some away, this is absolutely a film worth talking about.
Note: There are at least four mainstream films with variations on this title. Oddly, they’re all romances, comedies, or romantic comedies. This is very… different.