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The Passion of Isabel: Part Two

by Rich Moreland, November 2017

This is the second part of my review of The Passion of Isabel, a Red Feline film starring Beatriz Rivera as the victim and Jac Avila as her torturer, Torquemada.

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The Passion of Isabel sticks with its erotic theme throughout.

No Escape

For instance, food is important imagery. Torquemada teases Isabel with water to replenish her energy and eventually brings her rudimentary nourishment after he has kept her confined for two days. She’s offered an apple and a small loaf of bread, both highly sexualized symbols.

Eating is a Freudian symbol for sex. Isabel is capitulating to his sexual control over her. When he tempts her with the apple in an Adam and Eve reversal, Isabel looks into his eyes with submission in hers.

Torquemada leaves the apple so she can feed herself in an act that implies dependence and obedience. He controls his prisoner totally now and wants her strong enough to endure the abuse she will suffer. Taking the food from Isabel, Torquemada stands her up for the first round of punishment, the exquisite whipping scene mentioned in Part One of this review.

Other symbols enhance Isabel’s enslavement. During her second rape, Torquemada chokes her with the chains that keep her under his control. In BDSM play, restricting breathing during sex increases its orgasmic intensity for the masochist.

Is Isabel being taught to perversely enjoy her trials?

Another prominent image is the metallic collar which is prominent throughout the film before it is locked around Isabel’s neck. When it is on the floor on its side, the camera shoots the scene through it, framing the device with a double meaning. It represents Isabel’s manacles and its round opening is a clear statement that this is a highly sexualized film.

As a foreboding of her death, Torquemada hangs Isabel in another erotic act. He stretches out her neck with the chain attached to the collar, once again suppressing her breathing and intensifying her sexual experience as he takes control of her soul.

Notice the other circular object, the pressure belt, is secured around her waist and also acts as a metaphor for the female sex. Isabel’s youthful beauty is slowly strangling her as the collar and the belt act as opposing forces.

There is no escape. She suffers because she is desired.

Rack and Wheel

A ladder becomes a rack to stretch Isabel’s body in the proper manner prescribed by the Inquisition. As Isabel’s misery continues, close-ups of her face underscore looks of desperation and defeat.

Her whimpering increases as the intensity of her trials is ratcheted up, but she never screams or cries out. Even as the end nears, Isabel displays a fortitude that is commendable.

When the film returns to the circle motif, the scenes move to the breaking wheel, sometimes called the Catherine Wheel. Isabel’s whippings continue and to increase her humiliation, Torquemada confines her in two ways: on the rim of the wheel with her back arched and then spread-eagle on the spokes in a crucifixion position.

Beatriz Rivera deserves high praise when she is stretched on the rim. Because the weight of her body pulls her down, she is steadied by the rope around her upper body and between her legs (sensationally erotic since she is nude) while the camera captures her pain.

Though accustomed to acrobatic maneuvers to show the sex they are having, only top of the line adult actresses ever deal with such an unnatural position.

Torquemada asks, “Do you repent for your father’s death?”

Isabel remains defiant, smiling slightly and shaking her head with a “no, no.”

There’s more lashing, rape, and anguish before the film’s denouement.

Allegory

In the final crucifixion, Isabel is subjected to probes with sharp objects (the medieval test for witches) and the pressure belt to add to her torment. Torquemada nails her feet and hands and rotates the wheel so that Isabel goes from the upright Christ position to the upside-down configuration of St. Peter.

When the crown of thorns is placed on her head, there are two single branches pointing upward resembling the horns of Satan. It’s a comment that Isabel’s tribulations symbolize the fight against evil that reaches into eternity. Pay close attention when her eyes look upward.

Isabel’s stoicism soars to its heavenly heights at this point. Rightly or wrongly, she accepts the responsibility for the crime she stands accused of committing and understands her punishment.

One more observation is worthy of comment. The ball attached to the pressure belt is allegorical. The pre-Christain Atlas bears the weight of the world just as Christ takes on the sins of man.

Isabel has clearly moved from sinner to saint and as the film closes. A heartbeat is all we hear. It slows, becoming almost imperceptible into eternity with the message that death is a state of mind rather than a spiritual end.

Bea’s Triumph

In the first part of this review, I suggested that Beatriz Rivera learned her craft in the film Justine and has now matured into an artistic performer in The Passion of Isabel.

This juxtaposition of a sixteenth century story in a twenty-first century film is evident in Bea’s performance. First, she rises to fame as an erotic actress. Notice, however, that she parts with Amy Hesketh and Mila Joya when she trims and partially shaves her pubic area so the female sex is on-screen. She lets us know she’s a modern bondage star and a woman making her own statement of sexual liberation.

What’s more, the decision to leave in the stud in her nose and her single ear piercing establishes a contemporary identity. Throw in her tattoos that are only lightly covered with make-up (the one high on her back is not) and we have the kind of presentation that excites today’s BDSM aficionados.

What of Bea’s acting?  As mentioned in part one, her range of expressions are largely non-verbal which requires concentration and awareness of what the scene is asking of her. She is subtle in her message of suffering.

Not only that, but her whipping scenes are realistic. At no time does she appear as a caricature of a victim. The viewer can feel her pain and the lingering agony of her relentless torture.

For these reasons which move Beatriz Rivera as actress beyond her lovely nakedness, Red Feline fans are going to demand more from this Bolivian sweetheart. Her film presence is pure erotic pleasure marked by the whip.

Final Thought

In Part One of this review, I pointed out the difference between the three tortured women in Red Feline/Pachamama Productions I’ve reviewed.

Bea’s performance in Isabel clearly delineates how differently she handles the erotic role of the tortured female from Amy Hesketh and Mila Joya. Bea is not horror-oriented as is Amy. Her pain is internalized so that crying out and screaming is not reflective of how she portrays pain. Likewise, she is not the submissive and docile character that appeals to Mila. Bea is defiant and in many ways totally feminist.

The magic of a Jac Avila film library allows the viewer to choose and appreciate the different ways talented actresses approach their masochistic roles and the brutal situations they find themselves in.

As for Bea in  The Passion of Isabel, she yields in the end, but the viewer gets the feeling that her heart never really stops beating.

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A Jac Avila film rarely disappoints even the harshest critic. Yes, his work is not for everybody and the viewer must have a taste for the performance art the Red Feline/Pachamama studios present.

At no time are the actresses abused, but as Jac will tell anyone who will listen, shooting his films can be an arduous experience. The scenes are hard on the body and the psyche, but each performer values the opportunity to make her own artistic statement.

Keeping this in mind, our wholehearted thanks is extended to all the women who appear in Jac’s films, and particularly to Beatriz Rivera as Isabel, for enriching our film experience.

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The Passion of Isabel: Part One

by Rich Moreland, November 2017

Entering its eighteenth year of production, Red Feline Pictures (RFPIX) continues its mission to bring BDSM film to a niche audience fascinated by crucifixion themes hammered and nailed with religious imagery.

The films typically center on a single female and her suffering under an oppressive regime or doctrine, such as the Inquisition, or as a product of her own fertile and willing imagination.

The Passion of Isabel stars the incomparable Beatriz Rivera as the heroine and longtime Red Feline actor and director Jac Avila as Torquemada.

In addition to Isabel, all of the films mentioned in this review are available at Red Feline and have been reviewed on this blog. I encourage anyone who wishes to purchase The Passion of Isabel to read my analysis of the other movies to get a further flavor of the Red Feline/Pachamama Films product.

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The Passion of Isabel is set in early modern Europe at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Age of Discovery promises the dawn of a new day that will challenge outdated belief systems.

However, for the youthful and beautiful Isabel, the old ways remain in place. Her father has arranged her marriage to an aristocratic friend named Torquemada and announces it publicly.

“Isabel is called to her father’s side at the high tower in a palace,” we are told, where she refuses the union, asserting that she will be her own woman and make her own choices.

“Enraged by this public humiliation, her father rushes to chastise her. To free herself from his grip, she pushes him, causing him to fall from the tower to his death. This dooms Isabel. For she is locked in a dungeon to await trial.

But there will not be any trial… Her fate now rests in the hands of Torquemada. And he has only one goal: Destroy the woman who humiliated and rejected him.”

If there is a single weakness in this film it is illustrated above. The viewer is not introduced to the story and instead is taken immediately to the dungeon where Isabel will suffer at the hands of Torquemada. To fill in the gap, I encourage everyone to read the entire description (parts of which I have quoted here) on the Red Feline website.

An introductory explanation during the opening credits would have helped set the scene, especially since the DVD is not packaged with a box cover that would include a brief synopsis.

But that is the only shortcoming in The Passion of Isabel. For BDSM fans who crave the vision of lovely female flesh resisting and succumbing to pain, this film fits the bill.

Your Body or Your Soul

The story opens with Isabel brought into the dungeon where she will face the judgement imposed on her by a deranged mind, her “crime” a mere excuse for unabated sadism and the sexual satisfaction it brings.

“Why do you have me here? You know I’m not guilty.” She questions.

Torquemada, who has no interest in consoling her, grabs Isabel behind the neck (which he does frequently in the film), and announces her father died disappointed that his gift to a friend turned into a “rebellious daughter” who needs to be chastised.

“He wanted you to be mine. You’re mine now and you’re going to pay for what you did to your father.”

Isabel is angry, telling him he knows it was not her fault.

Unmoved, Torquemada asks which is stronger, her body or her soul, then lets Isabel know both are now his.

From here the movie examines the miseries Torquemada inflicts on his victim. Among the whippings and rack and wheel tortures, there are the repeated simulated rapes.

Does this make Passion a horror story for an a mature audience? Perhaps, considering that most people may not want the kids to watch a naked woman abused and used. But, there is no hardcore sex and certainly no gore. This is not a slasher film.

So, what is it? For some viewers, Passion is soft porn (because of its nudity) marked with ordeals of pain. But that is hardly adequate. From my perspective, Passion is exactly what makes the Red Feline label popular: an outré, extravagant, and kinky art film with an undeniable erotic overlay.

The Erotic

Yet, what is erotic has as many variances as there are film fans. Having said that, it is too easy and grossly unfair to dismiss Red Feline productions like Martyr, Agent X, and Red Room as mindless female torture movies. Like Passion, they explore the psychological aspects of how we as a society view our sexuality, especially the masochistic/sadistic paradigm.

Over the years, the Red Feline label has matured in its technical presentation and Passion, at this point in time, has reached cinematic excellence. Visually, the viewer will be stunned by the clarity of the sadistic trials Isabel must endure.

What’s more, actress Beatriz Rivera has an overwhelming assignment in this film: show Isabel’s evolution from angry resistance to total submission. Torquemada breaks her so that she may reach her “understanding” in peace.

Because dialogue is sparse, Bea must reveal this transformation with her eyes, her expressions, her body positions, and her cries. In effect, they become the dialogue of surrender.

Bea’s gift is her ability to do this in a way that is steeped in our old friend, eroticism. Isabel is no passive whipping toy. She’s a fighter with whimpering her only concession to Torquemada’s abuse and asserts her feminist belief in her own sexual power. She may break in the end, but her torturer will work hard for his triumph.

Bea as Isabel bravely endures her pain to the excitement of the BDSM crowd. But that is only part of her appeal. She uses Isabel’s anguish to seduce even the most casual viewer. It’s a rare talent indeed.

Take, for example, the first whipping scene. Isabel’s arms are manacled in a crucifixion position and she growls at Torquemada, “Why are you doing this to me? Damn you, get off me.”

But for Isabel, from now on it’s all downhill and there will be no tears only quiet resistance that still flickers at the end.

By the way, this a fabulous scene. Beatriz Rivera’s body is exquisite, her nakedness enchanting. It is one of the best lashing sequences ever filmed by Red Feline or Pachamama Films, for that matter, and that includes the riveting work of Amy Hesketh whose filming resume is without equal in this kind of scene. That, believe me, is high praise and Bea should be proud of her performance in this segment for it alone is worth the price of the DVD.

The Victim Role Times Three

Beatriz Rivera appears in Justine, a Pachamama Film that also stars Amy Hesketh and Mila Joya who take the stage together in other films, among them Barbazul and Dead But Dreaming.

What is fascinating is how each of the actresses plays the victim role differently. Amy is horror oriented (Olalla, a vampire tale like Dead, is the best example). Her scenes carry a shock value that departs from pure eroticism because Amy believes in putting psychological terror on an equal footing with S/M for its own sake.

Amy in Olalla

Mila follows a different path. Despite a brief irascible moment as the vampire Aphrodisia in Dead, Mila is the docile submissive (for the non-torture version check out her role in Barbazul). Her suffering is preordained, it seems, and she is led to the slaughter with her gorgeous body abused and bloodied. Mila’s anguish is highlighted in both Maleficarum and Le Marquis de la Croix where she is sensationally pleasing to the sadistic eye.

Mila in Le Marquis de la Croix

Truth be told, Amy and Mila are luscious displays of female pulchritude. They are as alluring as any BDSM model in adult film and could go that route if they chose. But the question remains how to show the erotic side of sexy under the lash. Both can do that with their established reputations.

Mila and Amy in Maleficarum

Where, then, does this place Bea? Easy, the Bolivian beauty’s seductive and steamy on-camera persona challenges Amy and Mila for the camera’s eye. However, in Justine, she is learning her craft and keeps her presence under wraps. Understandable, I might add, considering that at times in the film she is overshadowed by Amy’s star power and Mila’s sultry victimization.

Bea in Justine

Plus, Bea is not totally nude, a downer for eager viewers who like their whipped women totally exposed and an indication of some hesitation on her part, at least in that film.

Incidentally, her introduction to the sadomasochistic genre of the Pachamama variety puts more emphasis on plot line than Red Feline so Bea had to demonstrate her acting skills from the get go. Not a simple task for a fresh face.

But hey, it’s a learning curve and that was her beginning. The Passion of Isabel has moved her forward in giant steps. Whereas Justine offers the viewer a taste of Beatriz Rivera, Isabel marches her onto center stage to carry the story on her shapely back, pun intended.

As Amy and Mila begin to explore other artistic avenues that may limit their futures in front of the camera, Beatriz Rivera is ready to step up to the plate, as they say in baseball, and hit a few homers of her own.

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A few comments on the technical aspects of the film are in order.

First, three cameras are used to record the scenes with a pace that is Hollywood worthy. Second, the technical quality (color and clarity) of the film is top notch. And third, in the movies timing is everything and Isabel’s suffering is highlighted by frozen imagery when the camera lingers on her beaten body after the torture has ended.

Its a cinematic moment Jac Avila has perfected that enriches the artistic vision of Red Feline and Pachamama films. The film’s message is transformed into a museum painting.

In my view, for these reasons alone The Passion of Isabel has to be the best Red Feline picture made so far.

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Le Marquis, Part Five: Mila

by Rich Moreland, April 2017

Le Marquis de la Croix is Mila Joya’s performance masterpiece and I asked Jac Avila to give us some insight into this talented actress.

My thanks to him for providing some of the photos in this final installment on the film.

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In Praise of Mila

Le Marquis is Mila Joya’s film. It’s hard to imagine any other actress as Zynga, the gypsy. A lissom, statuesque girl with a body that begs to be displayed in all its glory, the native Bolivian is the perfect torture victim; she graces every scene with an eroticism that is never overtly intentional but commands every cinematic moment.

In bringing Zynga to the screen, Mila whimpers, cries out, and looks pleadingly at the marquis, all the while amusing his perversities. Her most talented feature is her eyes. The pain and desperation she projects through them equips her to excel in this type of role.

Pay particular attention to how Mila handles the humiliation of hunger. Wrists and ankles shackled, she slithers on the floor to nibble a scrap of bread her tormentor casually tosses aside in an arrogant gesture of contempt.

Mila fashions Zynga’s sadness into an image so imposing that the camera can’t stay away. Cinematographer  Miguel Inti Canedo’s lens absorbs the native Bolivian’s agony while celebrating her beauty in shots that offer frequent close-ups that place the viewer into the scene with her.

Developing the character of Zynga requires few lines of dialogue but a ton of emotion and suffering. Mila accomplishes both while physically coping with whippings that leave real marks on her flesh.

Minutes of filming are spent framing her contortions that become the overriding images of Le Marquis. As mentioned previously, they are the frozen moments that stamp the film with the high honor of pure artistic expression.

For the record, Mila’s story reminds me of an icon of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Lana Turner, who at sixteen skipped school and headed to a local drugstore where the right person caught a glimpse of her.

It’s the stuff of legends, of course, revealing that the opportunity of discovery is never far away.

When I inquired about Mila as a performer for Pachamama Films, Jac Avila was most gracious in telling her story.

Here is part of it, so enjoy Mila Joya!

Young, Pretty, and Exotic

“There was a time when Amy (Hesketh) and I took very long walks, almost daily as a way to exercise,” Jac begins.

“We used to walk down to her therapist, an hour walk at a good and healthy pace, three days a week. The therapist used a Japanese method to help Amy with her back problems.”

The doctors, all specialists, shared a house for their offices, Jac remembers, and used the same receptionist. Unfortunately, one day she absconded with the business’s bank deposit and “left for parts unknown.”

Now shorthanded, the physicians hired another girl Jac describes as “younger, pretty, exotic and very shy.”

Here is where discovery offered its fortuitous self to Mila Joya.

Jac explains.

“I was writing a script then based on [Robert Louis Stevenson’s] Jekyll and Hyde. Doctor Jekyll in my version is a psychologist and, yes, he has a young, shy, receptionist, based on Mary Reilly, of course. I mentioned to Amy that the new receptionist was very much like the character in my script. I began to flesh out that character by observing Mila’s behavior while she was doing her job. Amy started observing her too.”

Small World

“A few weeks passed,” Jac says.

His habit was to sit with Amy during her treatments passing time in conversation with the therapist.

“At one point I decided to pick up on my reading instead and wait for Amy at the reception area, finally sinking my eyes in the gigantic De Sade collection I bought in a recent trip to New York,” he recalls.

The receptionist with a sultry allure and an unashamed elegance that filmmakers die for, took notice.

 

“Mila got curious. She asked what I was reading. I mentioned the book with a few descriptions of what the stories were about. She asked which of the stories was my favorite. I said Justine.

The receptionist was hooked.

“Days later she asked where I was from because all the time she saw me with Amy we were speaking in English,” Jac recalls. “I told her I was Bolivian. She was surprised, she was sure I was American.”

Mila inquired about Jac’s profession and found out he was a filmmaker, whereupon she wondered if she had seen any of his work. Sirwiñakuy had just been released and Jac mentioned it was currently playing a local cinema.

“She knew about the movie because her sister was friends with the make-up woman who worked in that movie,” Jac says.

But there was a surprise.

“Her sister actually met me once when she visited the set. Yes, I remembered her sister. Small world, I thought, this is meant to be. Mila also mentioned that she would love to work in movies.”

Jac was intrigued and invited Mila to meet with him and Amy to “talk about the possibility of a movie or two,” suggesting a minor role in one of the films they were currently shooting.

Nudity?

Mila later came to Jac’s house where the subject of nudity on camera was discussed. Was she game?

“She was hesitant,” Jac relates, “but she said she might. I also mentioned to her that she would need some training, she was ok with that.”

Of course, when it comes to the film business, money is a motivator!

“I asked her how much she was making at her job. She mentioned the amount and that she actually hated that job. I told her I could pay her twice as much just for her to train for the movie(s) and work for me in menial things, like running errands.”

So a deal was made and Mila took on all kinds of jobs.

“She was very happy with that'” Jac states. “I also told her that she needed an artistic name. I baptized her Mila Joya. She loved it.”

Mila Joins Amy

“Then something unusual happened,” Jac remembers. “We were offered some funds for a film I was thinking of doing about the Inquisition. We took the offer and I decided to do Maleficarum with Amy and Mila in the leading roles of lesbian lovers who are tortured by the inquisition.”

This meant that Jac and Amy had two films on their agenda for the close of December 2010: Barbazul and Maleficarum.

Since the filming duo had a schedule in hand, an available set, and a sensational newcomer in Mila Joya booked for both films, further possibilities sparked Jac’s thinking.

“We had the great dungeon location for Maleficarum so I told Amy we should shoot a third movie, based on De Sade, with me and Mila in the leading roles and with Amy as the director. I even had the title, Le Marquis de la Croix.


“So, Mila went from being a receptionist with a miserable salary, to become a leading actress in three movies where she plays complex characters who go through a lot of suffering and where she had to be naked most of the time, particularly in Maleficarum and Le Marquis,” Jac recalls.

Amusingly he adds, “She never played the shy receptionist I had in mind for her.”

Honing his new star’s on-screen potential came next and Jac offers that it took some time.

“Mila and I worked for a few months on her acting techniques as well as widening her comfort zone with the nudity and full torture aspect of our work.

“We had sessions where we would work out scenes from the Maleficarum and Barbazul scripts, just the two of us in the dark room I used in Fantom (a Red Feline Production) and with all the gadgets I had there.

“In a weird way, we became Mr. Hyde and Mary two hours a day, five days a week, until she was ready to play Francisca in Maleficarum, Soledad in Barbazul, and Zinga in Le Marquis de la Croix.

“The rest is history.”

Taking a Break

Finally, I’m interested to know what Mila’s future with Pachamama Films looks like now a few years later.

Jac updates us. She’s cast in Pygmalion (Bernard Shaw’s play) as the main character, Eliza. The film is yet to be released. Beyond that, everything is up in the air.

“What is next for her with the studio is in question,” he says, because her opportunities, not surprisingly, have expanded.

“Mila is cast in some TV ads, movies and most recently in a TV series. She’s not against the idea of working in other films with us; it’s just that she wants to take a break from the heavy torture and nudity for now,” Jac explains.

“She’s very much into art, drawing, and she loves tattoos. So she took lessons on how to make them and now she’s on her way of opening her own tattoo parlor,” he adds.

If you have not seen Ollala, do so and take a look at some of her ink.

Jac concludes his thoughts on Mila.

“I believe that maybe she wants to see if her acting alone will get her some attention, without the nudity. It’s not common here (Bolivia) to have nudity in films. We’re very unique in that sense.”

He goes on to say that Mila has made a name for herself in the “heavy films” he and Amy make and “wants to be in something different.”

Understandable, but the fans of Pachamama Films will miss her, I’m sure. In every sense of the word, this once shy receptionist is Jac Avila’s Pygmalion.

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For Mila Joya fans, here’s a parting image of her talent, one of those “frozen moments” that endear Pachamama film goers to the craft of Amy Hesketh and Jac Avila.

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Le Marquis, Part Four: Most Corrupt

by Rich Moreland, April 2017

In analyzing Le Marquis de la Croix’s message on religion and de Sade, once again I relied on the commentary section of the DVD  to get Amy Hesketh’s and Jac Avila’s views on their film.

Le Marquis can be purchased from Vermeerworks and Amazon. The other Pachamama Films referenced in this series, Barbazul, Justine, Dead But Dreaming, and Olalla, are also available at both websites.

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The Right to Torture

As mentioned, Le Marquis ends with a crucifixion that lingers on Zynga’s suffering.

Her hands and feet are nailed into place and she is suspended within the marquis’ cell. Taunting her, he asks if this fate is better than the guillotine. In other words, is the slow agony of the cross preferred to the quick death  under the blade? Does religion’s absurdities dignify the afflictions of the masses or simply mask them?

“What then are religions if not to restrain therewith the tyranny of the mightier to enslave the weak,” the aristocrat declares.

He claims “the right to torture, dominate and execute” the gypsy in a god-like pronouncement then blames the Christian God for forging “the irons” that “cruelly manacled her, the whips that bring her agony and the nails that pierce her.”

Of course, he then announces that “all religions start with a false premise” because God “never existed.”

While he philosophizes, the gypsy struggles to keep whatever life in her remains. It’s a battle she fights alone because there will be no divine intervention.

Unmoved by her pain, the marquis tells us “the sacrifice is complete. The naked woman is attached to the beam of her cross, that sacred symbol of our august religion.”

His pomposity challenges the similar vainglory and hypocrisy of the Church. Spurred to mock ritual with his own versions that border on the sexual, the torturer feigns a bit of pity for his dying victim.

He dips a cloth into the wine to give her drink in a mocking reference to the Gospel’s version of the crucifixion.

Is it vinegar (spoiled wine) she tastes? Is it sweet wine that supposedly is dispensed in Paradise? Or, is the wine a perverse celebration of her agonizing death?

Divine Maybe?

At this point, the film displays the irony of the marquis. He is the self-appointed instrument of the repression society and the church foist on non-conformists, the disempowered, and the fearful.

Recalling that European culture endeavored to crush the gypsy and others of the lower classes, the nobleman exclaims, “I show complete unconcern for the blood I shed or the suffering I caused upon her.”

In other words, Zynga’s torturer plays out what he despises, then sarcastically offers a strange salvation.

“If you are innocent,” he whispers to the dying girl, “this is divine.”

A little wine to go with the vinegar, perhaps?

Sacred Feminine?

Recognizing that “de Sade is in love with religious iconography . . . I wanted to bring that to life” before deliberately “perverting it,” Amy Hesketh says.

When I interviewed Amy, she revealed she is not personally religious preferring to characterize her film work as an expression of her Gothic point of view. On the other hand, Jac Avila was steeped in the faith growing up.

Both director/producers remind us that the Marquis de Sade is against any authority, especially the church. Amy mentions that it was the most powerful institution in Sade’s time; Jac chimes in with the “most corrupt.”

So in the end we see the crucifixion as a mockery of the gypsy’s innocence, assuming she is as she claims.

But if she is not, is it salvation? Not in the eyes of her executioner who the insists it is divine only if she is without transgression in a point Jesus might argue.

A final note. The chains on the wall behind the rack form an “M” and a “W” in an ascending order.

Could this be the marquis and his celebration of the sacred feminine in defiance of the Church? Has the imprisoned aristocrat played God and created a divine revelation in the crucifixion of the gypsy, a most unlikely candidate for Christianity iconography?

Or, do the letters imply that despite their suffering through the ages at the whims of men, women are destined to rise above them?

If that is the case, Zynga represents “everywoman” and her suffering deserves the highest praise. Perhaps that is what defines the sacred feminine–the bringer of life–and its challenge to the traditional Church steeped in its patriarchy and oppression (and repression, more precisely) of the sexual.

Could it be that the feminine is really the caretaker of whatever vision we have of eternity? If women birth humanity, why not Paradise?

The Tourist

Beyond culture and religion, Le Marquis is an innovative film with an intriguing conclusion concerning our basic human needs.

Here it is.

Psycho-sexual desires create sexual fantasies, especially when they involve pain and humiliation. From that standpoint, female crucifixion is erotic.

More than any other theme in Le Marquis, this is the one that encapsulates the narrative. We see it in the marquis’ sadism, no doubt, but what about the real driver of the entire story, the American tourist whose fascination with torture leads us into the museum in the first place?

While the romantic couple expresses a mild and playful interest in the museum guide’s narrative, the tourist is intensely focused on it. She envisions the scenes, projecting the couple into the marquis and Zynga.

This is evident when tourist “sees” her own version of the torment Zynga suffers. Does she envision herself in the girl’s place?

When the tour is over, the guide says no one knows if the tale he’s related actually happened and offers everyone tea. The girl waves it off and the couple leaves.

Now alone, the tourist wanders around the museum examining the horrible instruments. She is, in fact, caressing the tools of pain with a reverence found in the faithful.

Gingerly walking around the rack, she bumps into the dangling rope and steadies it with her hand.

“How did you like the visit,” the guide asks, returning with the tea and giving her a cup.

She wants to know if the instruments are real. They are, of course, he says.

Finishing her tea, the tourist becomes woozy. The guide smiles knowingly, opening another door, so to speak, to a very private fascination.

We are treated to one more vision of torture that begs for a sequel to this engaging film.

Obviously, the marquis is not finished and the tourist must take her turn . . . at least in that very active masochistic imagination of hers . . .

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The final installment in this series centers on Mila Joya, how she got involved with Amy and Jac and where she is headed now.

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Le Marquis, Part Three: Insights from the Producers

by Rich Moreland, April 2017

In this third post we’re going to take a look at the “arc” of  Le Marquis de la Croix. 

Jac Avila’s and Amy Hesketh’s remarks come from the commentary section of the DVD. I’ve used their thoughts to build my analysis of film.

As always, I encourage everyone to watch Le Marquis and interpret the story for themselves. To check out trailers from the film, click here.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films.

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Personal Catharsis

Amy Hesketh gives us a snapshot of the type of characters she and Mila Joya play in Pachamama productions.

Roles like Zynga are “special” for a woman, the director of Le Marquis declares, because they become a “personal catharsis.” In other words, an actress encounters experiences beyond her present reality and the range of emotions that accompany them.

Amy mentions death as an example.

The director also believes that films like Le Marquis concentrate on image making as a statement of art. The tortured woman becomes poetic especially when portrayed by the talented Mila Joya.  She expresses so much without words, Jac Avila interjects, using her eyes to communicate pleading, pain, and resignation.

Intimacy

There is another character in Le Marquis: the setting. It dictates the narrative, emerging as a force that brings out the pain suffered by both victim and torturer. Other Pachamama films like Maleficarum and Justine also do this well.

The dungeon is a state of anima/animus and yin/yang, Amy believes, opposites that are psychological constructs of the self. In other words, the torturer and his victim develop a personal intimacy within the confines of the chamber.

“There’s something that happens in this whole arc . . . the characters are together” in their state of mind, she says.

Their intimacy emerges. Zynga often gazes at the marquis with abject servility, offering herself to him while he worships her as the object that gratifies his sadism.

Do they have real affection for each other? Perhaps.

At any rate, the tension between denial and survival further defines the arc of Le Marquis.

To put it another way, Zynga’s needs are physical and immediate; the marquis’ are psychological and emotional. Both are sides of human existence that combine to form a whole person severely circumscribed within the miserable confines of the prison.

Consider this, the torture scenes reinforce one kind of denial when Zynga begs for the wine so she can physically survive; whereas, another version of denial, this time psychological, is overcome when the aristocrat gives in to his need to increase the intensity of the tortures.

In Le Marquis survival is at stake in the power play between the dominant and submissive. As Amy puts it, the desperate gypsy makes a deal to be sold rather than being executed only to discover her choice will lead to her doom.

That, I think, is the “arc” that Amy creates with her performances and directing, not only in Le Marquis but other films as well.

An Intimate Position

The image of Zynga in chains is a device of suffering, Amy asserts, but it’s also erotic. The marquis’ control over her and her reaction to the tortures are part of the carnal appeal of the film.

In truth, it’s the psychological essence of sadomasochist sexuality.

Accepting that vision, Amy comments on the rack scene. It offers a different feel from whipping because the victim is lying down which injects a sensual component into the scene.

She references the rack as “an intimate position like someone sitting on the side of the bed and talking to you.” This scenario creates “an emotional and physical dialogue” between torturer and victim.

We see it in Ollala, for example.

How easy is it then for the marquis and Zynga to take the next step and become lovers? After all, the victim is open to penetration were that a choice the torturer decides to make.

In Sade’s writing, that line is crossed frequently, but only suggested in Le Marquis . . . or at least we suppose.

A Violent Act

Amy Hesketh emphasizes the rack’s sadomasochitic implications by underscoring sex as a violent/aggressive act often witnessed in animal mating behavior. For Sade, torture is part of a sex act that exists within in the mind, she believes.

This is in play when the marquis touches Zynga lovingly, then releases the tension only to begin the process again. On a metaphorical level each pull of the ropes is a moment of ecstasy for both the masochist and the sadist . . . an orgasm, so to speak.

Later in the preparing for Zynga’s crucifixion, the nobleman runs the tip of the nail over her cheek and body in a gesture of admiration and sacred adoration.

The emotional intensity is breathtaking.

Of course, the nails will penetrate Zynga’s body in an intimate act much like Dracula’s blood sucking when his phallic-like fangs puncture the flesh.

So how far can we go in equating sex, the act of procreation, with the end of life? I suspect Amy is telling us it is part of the “arc.”

It’s worth mentioning that hints of sex and torture as interchangeable parts subtly pervade films like Justine, Dead But Dreaming (consider the vampire roles of Jac Avila and Mila Joya) and Barbazul (the erotic writer, Jane, is whipped and strangled when she resists Bluebeard’s offer to sexually “play”).

But Le Marquis presents a twist. The gypsy’s sexual presence is so overwhelming that she emotionally emasculates her torturer in the best moments of denial in any Pachamama Film to date.

How do we know? Study the marquis at his desk writing and sipping wine while Zynga suffers behind him. His manner defines what it means to be clinical, distant, and devoid of overt emotion before modern psychology studied such things. Simply put, he has repressed his need to “feel” in order to sate his deviancy.

Frozen in Time

Amy Hesketh comments that the Marquis de Sade lived in his mind. His psychological self and his world were well-developed because neither extended beyond the walls of his prison.

In Le Marquis, Amy puts this observation into play. When Zynga becomes part of her torturer’s limited universe, he introduces her to severe acts of misery then follows the gypsy’s agonizing rhythms as her suffering intensifies.

It is the motion of the sexual, waves of ecstasy crash and recede in the poetry of the human condition.

Her painful contortions devolve into images frozen in time when she loses consciousness.

Zynga’s crucifixion animates this point. Amy states that she wants to create visual representations much like “a painting from a book” when shooting such scenes. It’s another way of interpreting the “frozen moment.”

To “Feel” Something

Though Le Marquis is told through a progression of images depicting the gypsy’s gradual descent into the horrors of the abyss, Amy points out that audiences today are not shocked by physical depictions of blood and pain (modern slasher films probably contribute to an ennui that numbs all of us).

On the other hand, persuading people to “feel” something in that regard, to get them to take notice, so to speak, is new.

To do that, film must become a mirror, she implies.

“The only emotions you can show someone are their own,” Amy declares. The key is to find the triggers that engage the viewer.

Le Marquis reaches for that difficult goal.

Next the fourth post will look at the Zynga’s crucifixion as a statement of the sacred feminine.

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For my review of the other Pachamama Films mentioned in this analysis, check the following: Dead But Dreaming (May 2016), Ollala (July 2016), Barbazul (September 2016), and Justine (December 2016).

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Le Marquis, Part One: The Museum

by Rich Moreland, April 2017

Le Marquis de la Croix is a film by Amy Hesketh that features Jac Avila and Mila Joya. It is available for download or on DVD from Vermeerworks.

This is the first of a five-part series on the film and combines a review with commentary from  Amy and Jac. The final post is exclusive to Mila Joya, the star of the film.

Le Marquis is another provocative work from the collaboration of Amy and Jac. I highly recommend it.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films.

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The Story

The wealthy marquis, sentenced to his prison confines (luxurious as they are), writes lurid accounts of his sexual imaginations. Fortunately for his perverse addictions, an occasional condemned female criminal is brought to him for a price.

Such is the case with Zynga, a gypsy girl sentenced to death, as the marquis tells us, for “three crimes: murder, theft, and arson” (borrowed incidentally from the Marquis de Sade’s 1791 novel, Justine).

The film explores the tortures Zynga endures and her eventual demise. The story is presented as a narration extracted from the marquis’ writings in his cell. As he completes one torment and plans the next, the aristocrat returns to his desk to record his thoughts and lets the viewer into his mind via voice over.

The bound and naked Zynga is the consistent background image and the main motif throughout the film.

Strikingly Innovation

Le Marquis de la Croix is a literary fantasy that operates on different levels. On the surface, it has definite appeal to the BDSM community. Heavily sadomasochistic, the whippings and rack scenes are about as exciting as a bondage film gets. It is realism personified.

The film does, however, offer more. There is an engaging political and religious message that is as appropriate today as it was in Sade’s time, the 18th century setting of the narrative.

Told with a modern flavor, the story also hints at the erotic fascinations of a modern tourist who seeks out a museum then confronts her own sexual fantasies in an ending that, as they like to say in commercial media, is priceless.

Clearly, the American tourist lets us know that whims of the Marquis de Sade are more accepted today than ever before and perhaps more fascinating.

As you might have deduced, the film is a story told concurrently by a contemporary museum guide and the marquis’ pen. Whose imagination brings the story to life is always in question as we work through the film.

Clever, strikingly innovative, and beautify filmed, Le Marquis de la Croix highlights the emergence of Mila Joya as an actress. Though she has few lines that are often blunted by the pain of torture, her performance is exemplary.

The native Bolivian uses her physical expression, particularly her eyes, to tempt, seduce, and react to her torturer, who struggles against his own sexual arousal to complete his self-appointed task.

Jac Avila is the story’s creator; Amy Hesketh the film’s director. The pair also produced the film while Miguel Inti Canedo serves as the chief cinematographer. His image making is exceptional. By that I mean this: any number of stills he took could have easily served as the box cover for packaging the movie.

A final caveat before we look into Le Marquis: there is a commentary section available on the DVD that features Amy and Jac. As noted in the intro above, I have referenced their remarks where appropriate in this series of posts.

Back Streets

Le Marquis opens with an American tourist (Amy Hesketh) checking her guidebook for an out-of-the-way museum in the back streets of a contemporary South American city.

Locating her destination, she descends a stairway into an underground cavern that looks much like a dungeon which of course it was centuries ago.

The museum guide (Eric Calancha) is talking with a couple (Jac Avila and Mila Joya) and welcomes the tourist to the group.

He references a cordoned off area that was the Marquis’ cell. The tourist is wide-eyed and fascinated; the couple, probably on an afternoon date, appears mildly interested and, at times, the girl seems cautious, restrained, and perhaps a bit uneasy (setting the viewer up for her transition into the film).

As the guide talks, the camera moves into the cell and the marquis becomes animated but in whose mind–ours, the guide, the couple, or the tourist?–we don’t know.

In period dress, he is writing at his desk, candles provide the light throughout his expansive environs where the film takes place.

The Gypsy

As the guide explains, the nobleman was imprisoned and “because of his wealth, he could buy women . . .”

Brought in by a paid confederate (the second role for Eric Calancha), a gagged and manacled girl appears behind the marquis . . .

“. . . Women who were condemned to die. There was a person who brought him women in exchange for a sum,” the guide says.

The marquis in over voice brings the story into focus.  “There are no limits to what I can purchase. Zynga the gypsy . . . was sold to me bound in chains full of fear, hunger and rage.”

The marquis (Jac Avila) drops a small bag of coins in the confederate’s hand and Zynga (Mila Joya) is offered a chance to avoid the guillotine.

But as the money predicts, she will receive a proper scourging and crucifixion for her decision in a political mockery of the Christian faith.

Next we will look at the images and themes of this extraordinary production.

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You can follow Jac Avila:

 

And Amy Hesketh:

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Amy Hesketh, Part Two: Sex and Art

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

Here is the second installment of my interview with Amy Hesketh, producer/director/actor and founder of Decadent Cinema.

For newcomers to her work, Amy is a native New Englander. Her professional film career began under the tutelage of  Pachamama Films’ Jac Avila.

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Yes and No

My talk with Amy Hesketh continues. The subject turns to a staple of her films: nudity.

Do the actresses take on the amount of nakedness they are comfortable with?

Yes and no, Amy responds and cites Maga, the singer in Barbazul, as a prominent example. The actress, Paola Teran, was open to whatever Amy wanted and had no personal issue with baring it all.

However, the screenplay had a determining factor built in.

barbazul01093712-2Like Blubeard’s other women, Maga is murdered. In the scene, she’s wearing a great-looking outfit, Amy says, which offered a practical benefit.

“I was doing my own effects and it helped that I didn’t have to spend a lot of time making the wounds in front of her,” as would have been required were she totally nude.

But that’s only part of the story. Amy explains that the film “had a lot of palettes” and as the director, she pays a significant attention to color and how it relates to the composition of a shot.

“Essentially when you look at the frame, there’s a certain amount of color in the composition, so if she (Maga) were nude there, she clashed a little bit [because] purple is her color and I didn’t see enough of it in the rest of the shot, so I needed it there because otherwise my palette would be off.”

As for the writer Jane, her color is pink, Amy adds, a good thing since she ended up playing the role herself.

“My skin is fine, it went with the palette.”

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Consequently, after a number of test shots, nudity was a fit for Jane’s character.

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The Storyboard

Once the basic narrative and characters are in place, how do they shape the finished film?

To begin with, Amy has a vision for her production which includes the film’s palette and mood. Often she relies on storyboarding, a popular technique used by fiction writers, cartoonists, playwrights, and others.

Then as the plot line takes shape the characters will go their own way. Often conflicts come out of a character’s back story which opens the door for further creativity.

“When I’m writing, a character becomes real and fleshed out. Obviously the actor’s interpretation becomes slightly different, so I tend to go with that,” Amy says, because she doesn’t want to force any cast member into “an unnatural performance.”

Her style is to let things find their own direction, a flexibility not every director possesses.

The payoff is a worth it.

“There are a lot of wonderful surprises when you’re shooting a film, so if you can go with that and learn how to write it in and direct it, then you have something magical, something beautiful and spectacular that comes out of it,” Amy concludes.

Speaking of characters, Amy’s work appears to use location as an animated character. Is that an accurate assessment?

“Absolutely, I generally use locations as characters. [In Barbazul] the hacienda is a character in the sense that it is the patriarch/matriarch. It’s the glue that holds everything together. It represents the oppression of the past,” Amy says.

In Ollala another old house is center stage. My guess is the upcoming Pygmalion may also have one.

“I often have old houses in my films because I find them to be this oppressive force,” Amy says.

“It’s the weight of history. It’s something I’m constantly pushing back against with my films so it’s often a character in my films, a character in my life.”

Rabbit Hole

What is her most difficult challenge when she’s in front of the camera?

“The hardest thing for me with a character is losing myself in the character,” which in her view can become risky considering the types of dramas Pachamama/Decadent Films produces.

Amy understands that her productions can be a gamble when it comes to its effects on the actors. As director she must assume some responsibility for any negative outcomes the cast might suffer as a result of filming.

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“So if you’re [the director] leading this person down a rabbit hole that is not nice, it’s your responsibility to care for them afterwards, make sure that they are alright and can get out of it. It often takes a lot more work than leading them into it,” Amy declares.

Of course for Amy, she is often her own director and that presents further issues.

1505228_10151835599527882_1712782730_n“I haven’t really had much help with that in my films, so that’s the hardest part for me. I’ll chose these characters so in order to portray them I have to travel to very, very dark place inside myself. And getting out of that becomes this terribly hard work, rather difficult and painful work to create other pathways.

“The most difficult part for me is getting back to myself and be in a positive space, to be happy and not to be in a dark miserable place.”

I mention her role in Maleficarum where she is tortured and crucified in the name of religion.

It took her two months to climb out of that abyss, Amy recalls.

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The Eroticism of Torture

Finally, we talk about her fan base and I offer that part of her following must be BDSM fans who relish the eroticism of her torture scenes.

Are these fans attracted to her work because of it’s perceived pornographic slant?

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Amy replies she doesn’t know much about pornography and doesn’t consider her films to fall under that umbrella. But she knows some fans may see her performances that way and she’s okay with their interpretation because there is “a certain niche market of people” out there who follow her.

dbd00490414-2“Yeah, I have a whole fan base that buys my films. It’s pretty much split down the middle between [S/M fans] and cinephiles who like art films.”

Amy welcomes all points of view and when it comes to the fetish crowd, she states, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that either. It’s marvelous. I wish we weren’t so condemning [of them].”

Amy ‘s final thought ties everything together with a bit of wisdom.dbd00552817-2

She remembers the words of a professor she at Bard College where she got her undergrad degree. He related a point he learned from one of his profs: when it comes to stimulating the mind, “If it’s not sexy, it’s not art.”

Amy Heskeths’s films are certainly art, and she is superbly sexy. . . and an absolute delight to talk with, I might add.

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Amy can be found on instagram, Facebook, and twitter.

To purchase Amy’s films, check out Vermeerworks.

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