by Rich Moreland, September 2016
The cinematography in Barabazul is expansive and invigorating. Often indie film companies are handicapped by lack of funds which can show up in the technical aspects of their work, but Pachamama/Decadent productions manages to overcome that shortcoming with finely crafted shots equal to those of big budget studios.
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You Were Perfect
Barbazul now moves into its flashback stage. Soledad reads through the journal and meets each of Bluebeard’s previous women.
The first is Annabelle (Veronica Paintoux). She’s doing a fashion shoot for the slave-driving Paul. Soledad is also present, assisting the cameraman but hardly to his satisfaction. He criticizes her as a “nappy-haired cunt.”
After a round of poses, Annabelle chats with Bluebeard.
She wants his opinion of her work.
“It was perfect. You were perfect,” he says.
Annabelle suggests he must have paid handsomely to be on set because Paul doesn’t want clients hanging around when he’s shooting.
“I like seeing the action,” Bluebeard replies.
So does she, apparently, and invites him to dinner. Eating, a Freudian interpretation of sexual interest, is a major motif in the film.
Conversation revolves around her talents. Her photos “will last forever,” Annabelle says, because modeling is an art that requires “using your body, knowing how to move, knowing yourself.”
“To understand your own beauty is not that easy,” she remarks with a knowing smile.
Annabelle is self-confidence personified, a statuesque charmer quite the opposite of Soledad who is socially reserved despite her exotic, understated look. Elegant and cosmopolitan, Annabelle seduces Bluebeard.
She even tells him his scarf is all wrong and in a moment integral to the film, gives him hers. It’s black and will become the pivotal image for the rest of the narrative.
Director Amy Hesketh has set the table, so to speak, in this restaurant scene. We know what is to come.
As expected, the boat ride and hotel sex follow. Annabelle is far less reticent than Soledad about stripping down before crawling across the bed to Bluebeard.
Annabelle’s demeanor on the boat also differs from Soledad’s girl-next-door image. The craft requires pedaling. For Annabelle, donned in a black mini-dress, modesty is of no importance. On the other hand, Soledad wears a lengthier garment, keeping her hand modestly placed between the folds of her outfit to ensure nothing is revealed.
Incidentally, Veronica Paintoux is a natural beauty, the perfect choice for Annabelle. She wears no make-up and holds a conversation with refinement and grace. What man would not be attracted to her?
Later, Annabelle tells Paul she’s getting married because “this won’t last forever,” a reference to her modeling. He concedes she’ll lose her looks but is that any reason to commit suicide?
“It’s not suicide,” she says. Well, it’s close.
A Dusty Mouse
After their marriage (in the city, not on the plantation) Bluebeard takes Annabelle to the hacienda over the familiar dusty roads. She holds an open parasol to preserve her complexion.
During the tour of the wine casks, she is indifferent, unlike Soledad who is impressed with facility.
When the camera shows a close-up of her steps at ground level, Annabelle walks by a cobweb-covered carcass of a mouse that reveals much about the film. She doesn’t notice it.
Moments later she recoils at the sight of the bats on the ceiling. Her reaction is disgust, unlike Soledad who finds the night creatures fascinating.
Later Bluebeard offers Annabelle the same bike ride Soledad enjoyed, the lithe model waves him off and heads up the steps.
To her credit Annabelle is wonderful when the arrangement calls for her charm, glamour, and role-playing. On an outdoor picnic, she amuses Bluebeard by creeping seductively like a tigress stalking her prey. But it is a performance that raises the question of who is the real quarry?
Inevitably, Annabelle, the gorgeous model who is as urbane as they come, has “the great realization.” The plantation is not her kind of place. Her decision to marry was self-centered and hasty, perhaps driven by her desperate fight against a force she cannot control: the passing of time.
No problem really, her worries will soon be put to rest.
Do You Need Help
Annabelle’s self-absorption hints at her demise. Wearing her signature little black dress, she enters the bedroom with a portfolio of photos, the same one Soledad later discovers. The aging model lays out the glossies on the bed with care. Three nudes lead the way.
Bluebeard comes in. He picks out one he likes and unzips her dress. They fall together on the photos.
When he asks if she loves him, the snapshot immediately to her left is telling. It’s a close-up of Annabelle’s face; it has a wide-eyed look devoid of animation.
Over dinner Bluebeard and Annabelle fall out. She takes off her clothes and goes to bed, but that doesn’t silence the argument.
“I want to go away. I’m leaving you, I want to live my life,” Annabelle declares. The plantation is an emotional desert; she has no friends, no real satisfying existence.
Bluebeard, in a moment of disbelief, responds, “You have me.”
She looks away. It’s the ultimate insult and rejection.
In a manner that borders on pleading, he offers her a baby. Not for her, she wants to work and teach modeling. This is the most sincere and honest conversation in the entire film.
Annabelle suddenly gets up to leave. Bluebeard uses the scarf she gave him to corral her around the neck and force her back onto the bed where he strangles her. An anguished Bluebeard utters a painful cry as Annabelle’s life slips away and the image in the photo comes alive. In an act of necrophilia, he penetrates her in a confusion of desire, rejection, and revenge.
Metaphorically, Bluebeard has killed off part of himself. Disconsolate, he sits outside the bedroom on the porch. A blank stare covers his face.
Walter peeps in the bedroom and asks, “Do you need help with this?” Bluebeard nods.
This episode is Jac Avila’s acting at its finest.
Barbazul first kills because he is rebuffed by someone he truly loves or thinks he does. Cleansed of the shame of rejection, he will degenerate into a sadist who, in his own contradictory way, is looking for redemption. He is sorting through the layers of his shadow, reducing himself to his once naïve, child-like state that lives within him, thus his attraction to the barefooted Soledad. By the way, Bluebeard’s final intended victim, her sister Ana, is barely out of childhood at eighteen.
From Annabelle to Ana, the women get progressively younger. Notice Ana is a take down of Annabelle, as if the extra letters in her name are parts of Bluebeard’s personality he will snuff out.
It’s not quite that simple, of course. Bluebeard’s women are a menagerie of dresses on a rack, victims of his fantasies that yield their lives to a wealthy man’s search for his soul.
Amy Hesketh brings Bluebeard’s sadism to fruition step-by-step through cleverly constructed glimpses into his emerging psychological brutality. As he passes from one woman to the next, Bluebeard’s sex acts become increasingly rape-like with hard, violent thrusting.
Only Jane seems to enjoy that scenario. She initiates Bluebeard to her kinkiness and takes everything a step further when the whip orchestrates the sex.
But first we have two brief stopovers: gore with Maga and a crucifixion of sorts with Agata.
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Before we get the final part of this review, here is an interesting note about making Barbazul.
In a recent correspondence, Jac Avila told me, “The hacienda in Barbazul is in a valley, near La Paz, known as Chivisivi. It is still to this day used to make wine and vinegar. It’s an active vineyard. For Amy it was very important that the place gave some of the mood of the characters. In Barbazul each woman has a different color in the decor of the place and the way they dress and so on. Barbazul is very particular about that.”
To get an impression of the plantation’s magnificence, here it is.
And like every good director, Amy Hesketh strives to capture the perfect scene.