Tag Archives: Amy Hesketh

Baroque and Gothic: Views of Justine

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

Followers of this blog know I’ve reviewed, or should I say deconstructed and analyzed, several of Amy Hesketh’s and Jac Avila’s films.

And, there’s more on tap in the future.

Fortunately, Amy and Jac took time to talk with me about their storytelling and directing, the topic of this series of five posts.

In this installment we’re looking at Justine, a film released through Vermeerworks and reviewed on this blog in December, 2016.

The adaptation and directing are Jac Avila’s with Amy appearing as Justine.

*           *          *

Martyrs Anyone?

To get us started, Amy compares Jac’s thematic perspective with hers. A quick glance at Dead But Dreaming, Ollala, Barbazul, and Justine affirms her view.

“Jac has a very baroque perspective of character and I have a very gothic perspective.” Amy begins.

“You could say we have opposite points of view a lot of times. He loves martyrs. He adores them. It’s that baroque Catholic upbringing. For me, I do not have that so I view them as silly and passive-aggressive. I’m quite dismissive of them.”

But Amy is quick to add, “I feel like that has actually helped us work together.”

Justine is rife with religion motifs, I mention.

“Oh yeah. That’s from him,” she says with a smile. “My view of religion is extremely dim.”

Amy notes that Jac has a “more analytical standpoint” on faith, which she feels on principle is “much more harmful than good.”

Break the Wall

So how might Jac’s baroque paradigm influence Amy’s performance in Justine?

First, her interpretation of the Marquis De Sade’s Justine as novel and character is not generous.

“I will confess I did not make it through the entire book because it’s so tediously written.”

Despite her weariness with De Sade’s literary style, Amy read enough to get a flavor for Justine as a character, but couldn’t empathize with the silly girl’s tribulations that went far beyond normal human endurance.

Her attitude toward Justine soured.

“I hated Justine, I fucking hated her!” Amy declares.

Not surprisingly, things then got difficult.

“For me, I have to find a way into a character [and the story] in order to act it, write it, direct it. For Justine, I tried a lot of different angles. I just couldn’t find that way in.

“So we worked on her character. Jac and I tried to look at her from different perspectives and eventually we nailed it.”

Amy explains Justine is portrayed as a “kind of victim. . . with a certain passive-aggressive knowledge of what she is doing.”

As a cinematic team they pulled it off beautifully, particularly in the scenes where Justine endures the whip and applies it as well.

Amy’s idea to create a workable version of Justine’s character was to break the fourth wall with her as narrator, though Justine’s sister, Juliette (played by Cortney Willis) also uses the technique.

So, how to persuade Jac?

His bathroom is decorated with black tile, so Amy came up with a clever plan.

“I had this idea writing with chalk on the tile. Eventually he noticed it and over time thought it’d be a good idea. So we went through the script and blocked off and changed some of the dialogue so I would be speaking directly to the audience.”

Dark Humor

From my perception of their work, I suggest to Jac that Amy seems to select roles that involve victims of emotional pain and physical torture like Mariana in Maleficarum and her portrayal of Ollala. What’s his take on that?

“The characters she plays appeal to her, yes, and at the same time scare her,” Jac says.

How about Justine?

“In her view Justine is an idiot,” Jac explains. “However as in any art, a part of us is in those characters and a part of our experience is expressed in them. In some cases it becomes cathartic.”

Good point and it’s an injustice to suggest that Amy’s performance as Justine, sprinkled with a severe dose of vacuous submissiveness, is anything short of spectacular.

Setting aside for a moment Justine as a leading character, Jac offers his perspective on the novel and it’s not far from Amy’s and his honesty is laudable.

“You read the book, so you know how complex, long, sometimes even boring, the story is.

“It’s built on dialogues and monologues, speeches, really, with two points of view expressed through many characters with the same voice, except for Justine, who speaks for ‘virtue.’”

The characters Jac references try vainly to convince Justine that ‘vice,’ their reason to be, is far superior to virtue.

Jac also mentions an unintended shortcoming of Justine that affects how we see the story.

“The translation from the old French probably takes away something that is part of De Sade’s mind. Dark humor. He’s making fun of his society.”

And that is exactly why breaking the fourth wall works so well in the film. For example, check out Amy’s deadpan and creepily amusing delivery of Justine’s comments while she is raped after her public flogging.

 

Jac continues…

“De Sade is wordy to the extreme, as you know, and most of the book is either Justine’s monologues or long, unending dialogues and discussions impossible to film without putting everyone to sleep. I made my own story taking those passages in the book that I felt could be translated into a visual story.

“I cut the dialogues to a minimum, and altered the ending completely. I used the characters I liked the best, some retained their storyline while Rodin, the leading male character, became the puppet master. The narrative is still in the hands of Justine.”

Again, the value of the fourth wall technique, it drives the story forward and gives the viewer a taste of De Sade’s cynicism.

Who gets Directed?

So what can we say of Amy’s input into Jac’s film?

Enough apparently to highlight Justine as an extension of what can more broadly be called the Avila/Hesketh “Baroque/Gothic Collaborative Process.”

“Amy and I collaborate very closely in all the films, we both produce them. We discuss the scripts, always. We both contribute to each other’s movies with some ideas, suggestions, and so on. I do the editing, mostly, so I do work on the structure of the story, but either me or Amy, depending on who’s directing, decides the pace the film will have,” Jac explains.

Sounds good, but what is Amy’s take on their joint venture when he’s in charge?

As we’ve seen, she internalizes her character before they discuss her perspective on the role she is playing.

It’s a process familiar to Jac.

“It’s so thorough and so detailed that essentially there will be no surprises for him,” Amy remarks.

“We have extensive conversations about my character and he pretty much knows what I’m going to do,” she says, so in the end, “Jac really doesn’t direct me very much.”

She defines their on-set teamwork as “more of a dialogue.”

On the other hand, what happens when they switch professional “hats,” so to speak, and she becomes the director?

Amy chuckles in that endearing way that highlights a warm relationship long in the making.

“I direct him heavily,” she muses. “I really hammer on him because he has lots of habits and things like that.”

So, does gothic win over, or win over, baroque?

*          *          *

In the next post, we’ll meet the two actresses who join with Amy to play the trio of victims in Justine and get their perspective on their roles.

Before we do that, however, why don’t you take a moment to watch the cast test the wheel for the film here and here.

And, for an earlier look at Jac Avila, check my three-part blog series published in August, 2016.

 

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I Only See Darkness: Jac Avila’s Justine, Part Five

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

SPOILER ALERT! This last installment of Justine discusses the film’s ending, but only partially. For the final resolution watch the film.

Justine is available through Vermeerworks in a download format or in DVD for those who want their own home library.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama/Decadent Films.

*          *          *

To Know the Unknowable

As Justine moves to its final outcome, Juliette takes center stage and tells her sister about their past.

Her narrative takes place at the pillory but it is interwoven with scenes of Juliette inspecting the dungeon where she amusingly caresses the restraining ropes and turns the wheel of torture.

In an empowered moment feminists will admire, Juliette holds a flogger and pulls it taut.

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“With the figure and age we both had, we could not die of hunger,” Juliette recalls. “These speeches horrified Justine. She declared she preferred death.”

And what of Juliette, a criminal at fourteen? She never looked back.

“Prosperity . . . soiled with crime and horrors” brought her to this moment, she says.

The triumph of vice looks down upon the humiliation of virtue.

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Jac Avila uses Juliette’s cynicism to confront Justine’s faith as the curtain begins to descend.  It goes straight to the heart of the story, the pretense to know the unknowable.

Thirty-Nine

A redemptive moment in the bedroom prompts Justine’s promise to help Omphale escape (a vague reference to the novel when both were imprisoned in the monastery).

It’s all for naught, of course. Sade reveals that such promises are never carried out.

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Justine is captured along with the other girls and the connection to the film’s opening scene is now complete.

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Justine is sentenced, whipped, and pilloried.

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The others receive their marks in kind . . .

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. . . with Rosalie’s particularly graphic in a marvelously shot BDSM scene.

“Behold poor Rosalie. Born to be sacrificed. She will receive thirty-nine lashes of the whip,” Justine laments, addressing the camera once again.

Rodin is creating “his own version of the passion play with his daughter as the sacrifice,” she adds.

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Thirty-nine is forty minus one, the number given Christ (forty was thought to bring death) and thirty-nine is three times the unlucky thirteen revisiting the number archetype we’ve already referenced.

Go back and check the opening scene, Justine passes out during her scourging following the thirty-ninth lash.

The Cross

After the march to the crucifixion site . . .

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. . . the sacrificial victims are positioned on a tripod-like configuration (the number three again) that is actually a drying rack for animal hides typical of native cultures.

Rodin taunts Justine about the pain of the nails (in the novel he brands her as a whore) and looks proudly at his work for the benefit of the crowd.

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Juliette approaches her sister.

“I will not share your pain . . . I will not take you down from your cross.”

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In truth, Juliette cannot.

Justine is being punished for transgressions Sade, her literary creator, charged her with three centuries ago. In the novel when Rosalie is awaiting death at the hands of her father, Justine abandons her.

“I only thought of fleeing,” she says, though admitting that “leaving an innocent victim” to her fate was painful.

Grappling with her circumstances, Justine chooses self-preservation, preferring to “instantly set off on foot” to get away from the evil Rodin.

Her hand is in Rosalie’s murder as surely as if she were in that fatal room.

Now it’s pay back. Retribution.

Justine’s devotion to virtue has shortsighted her humanity allowing Jac Avila to brilliantly tie his film to Sade’s novel.

Our heroine will die with Rosalie . . . and with her devoted friend from the Sade’s monastery, Ophmale, whose skull Justine finds when she escapes the devilish monks.

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Do You See Paradise?

As it happens, there is a final irony in this film that Sade would appreciate.

Justine’s death is a parody of Calvary . . . she is one of the criminals, an unwitting fate for the virtuous.

With unexpected compassion, Juliette promises Justine that perceived injustices (a satrical play on her name) will be punished demonstrating that virtue is often hidden within vice.

But the unknowable always lingers.

“You must answer me something,” Juliette says, gazing up at virtue’s disgrace. “Do you see Paradise? Do you see Hell waiting for you?”

She emphasizes “hell” with dripping scorn that mocks the blood on her sister’s body.

Justine utters, “I only see darkness . . . “

So then, we ask, what is the fate of virtue? Perhaps nothing more than the pretense to know the unknowable.

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Final Thoughts

Both the Marquis de Sade and Jac Avila question the central conundrum about God that has forever perplexed the faithful.

Is He merciful or simply whimsical?

Sade the atheist dismisses the argument altogether as illustrated when Justine is imprisoned in the monastery’s collection of tortured female flesh.

To make way for new girls, current ones are regularly discharged (murdered) but without any particular reason. Age, attractiveness, attitude, nothing seems to determine who is chosen and why.

Jac Avila has a larger, moral take on the question. To understand how he handles this deeper issue, view this thought provoking film and watch for what is not included here.

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Before we close, a word about the cast.

Amy Hesketh moves Justine’s character from Sade’s pathetic, clueless girl to an assertive woman who must deal with her fate. It is an admirable performance.

Cortney Willis is perfect for the haughty, arrogant, but sympathetic Juliette and Jac Avila artfully captures the indifferent Rodin, a scientist unmoved by the misery of those around him.

Mila Joya, a veteran of Pachamama/Decadent productions, and Beatriz Riveria have few lines but carry each scene with their interpretation of torture and suffering. Both women are exotic beauties who make luscious victims of Rodin’s evil ways.

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Kudos to all.

*          *          *

Congratulations to Amy and Jac for another superb and highly recommended film . . .

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And to Amy, Mila, and Beatriz for braving chilly weather to bare it all for art!!

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I Only See Darkness: Jac Avila’s Justine, Part Three

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

SPOILER ALERT! The ending of Justine is revealed in the final installment of this five-part review.

Writing about the Broadway blockbuster “Hamilton,” the Huffington Post’s Catherine Rappell said, “Art should be political (as this brilliant show already is, in spades). Artists should be political, too.”

Consider her words as we further our look at Justine.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films/ Decadent Cinema.

*          *          *

justine-bookWithin the pages of Justine, the Marquis de Sade rails against the Church and the worthlessness of virtue.

A self-proclaimed atheist, Sade writes of a vice-ridden world that takes what it wants and offers no quarter.

In his film version of Justine, Jac Avila explores Sade’s idea through one of the Marquis’s characters, Rodin the Scientist, who assumes a God-like role in the name of science . . . appropriate because the story takes place in the Age of Enlightenment.

This updated Rodin is not an atheist in true Sadean fashion, but he is a libertine, a political philosophy that also came to mean sexually obscene in Sade’s time.

And there’s one more difference. Rodin gives his victims a taste for vice that goes beyond Sade, empowering the feminine to criticize and inflict pain, if only so briefly.

Friday Punishments

Following the slave auction, Justine finds herself in Rodin’s home. His attentions make her uncomfortable.

“What need has he for a third woman, I asked myself? Why must they all be so pretty?” she says, again breaking the fourth wall.

Taking Justine to a secret panel in her bedchamber, Rosalie pulls back a curtain to reveal the dungeon where Rodin conducts his Friday punishments.

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Her father comes up with “trifles” to justify his pleasures, Rosalie explains.

Today, it is Omphale. As Justine watches, she turns to the viewer. “For libertinage alone,” she declares, “the passions he carries to its extremes.”

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Denouncing her father as a monster, Rosalie says he has “a grand plan divine” for her and it is not pleasant.

“Poor Rosalie is doomed.” Justine pronounces with resignation.

Truth and Perfection

The film now moves into the dungeon for an extended display of Rodin’s sadism. S&M lovers will sit up and take notice.

After finishing with Omphale, the scientist puts Rosalie on the rack in a crucifixion position that presages what it to come.  He explains to Justine, the now unwilling third victim in this Biblical farce, his libertine philosophy.

“I seek truth, I seek perfection,” and that can only be done by offering “the cruel death of our firstborn.”

In a parody of the Church, Rodin will be God, his Christ a female.

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In other words, Jac Avila challenges Sade with a contradiction that is political to the core.

Rodin is a usurper, a pedophile, an incestuous sadist who dances in the forest with the devil. Yet he recognizes what Swiss psychologist Carl Jung asserts is the duality of man.

Jung asserts that the definition of God (Good) is silent without its opposite, evil, which gives “good” its meaning. Likewise, virtue can only be understood through examining vice.

What’s more, Rodin is raising the earthly female to equal Christ, creating his own collective of tortured martyrs and flings it in the face of the Church. Christ only has meaning through the existence of woman.

In an ironic twist, it is a feminist statement that decries the Medieval Church’s patriarchal attitudes on one hand while revealing the Christian disdain for the sexually open “fairer sex” on the other.

He Shall Rule Over You

Rodin passes the whip to Justine.

ja98Looking into the camera, Justine reminds us that God curses and punishes Eve “because she has eaten from the tree of knowledge.”

Justine the virtuous suddenly becomes Justine the enforcer, inflicting agony under the cover of religion in a victory for vice . . . at least momentarily.

Forcefully striking Rosalie, Justine again directs her attention to the camera’s eye.

“Intense,” she declares with conviction and lands another blow on the bloodied girl. “And prolonged pain (another strike) meted out as punishment (another crack on the suffering Rosalie) appears almost immediately in the pages of the Bible.”

Omphale now takes the flogger as Rodin lays Justine on the floor and penetrates and debases her simply because he can. Feminism is empowered, then violated.

Justine hurls a political invective at God about the pain of childbirth.

Rodin pumps away; her anger builds.

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Speaking directly to women, Justine continues with dripping sarcasm.

“Yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.”

This is feminism in its most dramatic moment, a belligerent and contemptuous rejection of a male hegemony born of the faith.

This is not Sade’s Justine, not even close.

It’s a superb piece of filmmaking.

From Victim to Participant

After her rape, Justine is the next object of Rodin’s amusement. Put on the rack, she is pulled taut, screams, and is released for another go in a repeated chorus of revenge, martyrdom, and sexual brutality.

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Later in the bedroom, Justine and Rosalie spread Omphale’s arms restraining her as she is having sex with Rodin. Justine whips the girl while she “enjoys” a ride of pain and pleasure.

At this moment, Justine is not a victim, she is in control, a libertine-in-waiting who metes out ecstasy with every stroke.

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Is this virtue’s revenge, or virtue merely on hold?

And, what is the larger question?

Perhaps it is that virtue and vice are interchangeable and no one can be distinctly one or the other despite Sade’s best efforts to prove otherwise.

Nothing Better?

Returning to the dungeon, Rodin takes up Sade’s argument on eternity, but gives it a perverse spiritual touch.

Referencing his intentions with Rosalie, he says to Justine, “If nothing is lost to Nature, if nothing perishes . . . if a decomposed body just awaits dissolution merely to return in another form, then this act of cruelty and murder is indifferent.”

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Justine slowly and deliberately claps her hands in mockery and disgust.

“I applaud you, our dear lord and master. Your wisdom astonishes me, but your indifference confounds me. I thought you amorous.”

Feminism strikes again and Justine parlays it into a brief, commendable moment.

But wait, is she really addressing the supposedly loving God whose motivations are pure guesswork?

Rodin’s replies he tortures when he has “nothing better to do.”

Are his words a tribute to the Old Testament God who reigns misery on mankind seemingly without purpose and a reference to Sade’s monks who in the end dispatch their victims without rhyme or reason?

With that, Rodin furthers his entertainment and puts Omphale on the rack.

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Obviously, Rosalie’s decomposing body is destined not be alone.

The Wheel

A motif of the extended torture scenes is the wheel in Rodin’s dungeon. He puts each girl on it in turn.

The device is a nod to the Inquisition, the stock-in-trade of the Medieval Church. The wheel secured its victims for, among other things, a good flogging. To the delight of the perverse inquisitors, whipping was the pretext for exposing female flesh in the name of redemption.

Incidentally, Rodin’s wheel only turns in one direction, left to right. When one girl is punished, the others rotate the wheel, in effect taking the scene back in time when the Church’s word was unassailable.

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Oh yes, the wheel also shows us that throughout the ages women are the submissives in a never-ending cycle (circle?) of male dominance.

When this scene winds down, Rodin gets a bottle of beer and pauses to admire his work . . . a tribute to sadomasochism turned into art!

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Rosalie is on the wheel, Omphale on the rack (which has its own wheel for increasing the pain, incidentally), and the raped Justine chained to the wall with a metal collar and heavy ball pressuring on her neck.

Beauty has no limits.

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The next post will look at the imagery Jac Avila employs to enliven his narrative.

*          *          *

No matter whose film it is, Amy and Jac are always working together for the best outcome . . .

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And sometimes more discussion to get things just right evolves into a group effort . . .

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I Only See Darkness: Jac Avila’s Justine, Part Two

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

SPOILER ALERT! The ending of Justine will be revealed in the final installment of this review.

I’ve said previously that Jac Avila/Amy Hesketh films are worthy of academic study. Keep this in mind as we go through the rest of this multipart review.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema.

*          *          *

From her predicament in the pillory, Justine’s story continues.

She landed in prison for crimes she did not commit and is now “on the brink of paying with my life,” she tells Juliette.

For the moment, Jac Avila is on board with Sade as outlined in Justine, Part Two: Novel to Film.

Here’s a quick summary to give us a flavor of how this part of the story is cinematically handled.

Lost Virginity and a Murder Plot

Justine escapes her confinement thanks to Dubois and her gang. A prison fire provides cover though, as we’ve mentioned, the blaze exacts its price in consumed victims.

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Once free, the gang (Justine is now one of them) roam a local road and run into a merchant named Saint-Florent (Erix Antoine). The outlaws make their intentions known and Justine manages to prevent Saint-Florent’s death by claiming him as a relative.

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Satisfied with their conquest and profit, the gang imbibes too much and Saint-Florent and Justine simply walk away.  Later the cad leads Justine into the forest where he relieves her of her virginity after knocking her cold.

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Left alone, the violated girl wanders the woods and comes upon the Comte de Bressac (Alejandro Loayza) and his valet (Rodrigo Leon Leon) engaged in a bit of homoerotic delight.

Notice the small white bubble-like lights that drift from the bottom to the top of the screen. They’re the visual “stars” of Justine’s dazed and muddled brain as she stumbles into a scene that shocks her.

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Befriended by the count, Justine learns of his plot to murder his aunt. She is to be his accomplice.

Of course, Justine refuses to deliver the poison and is beaten and destined to be torn apart by Bressac’s dogs for her insolence.

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From here, Jac Avila departs from Sade. Before looking into how he changes the scope and message of the story, the focus of the next installment of this review, a couple of points need visiting.

Time

Jac Avila’s narrative cuts across time in such a way as to universalize the story and playfully push Sade into this century. We see this in two instances worth noting.

The first is an image. When Justine and Saint-Florent are walking along a road, there are two discarded automobile tires off to the side. The camera focuses on them. Why?

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The positioning of the tires (one looms over the other) is indicative of the questionable “path” our virtuous girl is taking in her journey. Vice awaits Justine who will, like the tires, soon be beaten down, worn out, soiled, and discarded.

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Before reaching the end of her dismal adventure, Justine is deflowered and sold into slavery to be tortured and sodomized.

The second reference related to time counterbalances the tire imagery.

In a seemingly odd moment, Saint-Florent tells the gang his horse’s name is Athena.

As the film heads for its conclusion, Juliette identifies herself to Justine as a “Priestess of Venus . . . whose fortune is the product of a pretty face and much misconduct.”

Considering the ingenuity we’ve come to expect from a Jac Avila production, there is more here than a couple of names.

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Athena is the patroness of ancient Athens, but she is also a virgin. On the other hand, Venus is the Roman version of Aphrodite, the symbol of female seduction, sex, and lust. Consider that the Romans conquered the Greeks as part of their empire building and the contrast is clear.

aber58-75Athena and Venus are the clash of virtue and vice before the coming of Christianity.

In other words, virtue versus vice is as old as mankind and as so often happens, vice wins . . . thus the reason for the rise of the faith!

Still, that is not the complete picture Jac Avila is showing us.  Justine eventually indulges in the taste of the libertine (albeit forced upon her, one could argue), enjoying brief  moments of vice Sade never considers.

Will Heaven take its revenge assuming, ahem, there is a paradise? We’ll revisit this question before time expires, as they say in sports.

The Auction

The film is now ready for its departure from the Marquis’s narrative.

Jasmin suggests to Bressac they profit from Justine. Rather than feeding her to his dogs as Sade illustrates (see Justine, Part Two: Novel to Film), Bressac agrees to sell her into slavery. The underground auction is the work of profiteers because eighteenth century France had outlawed all slavery beyond its colonial holdings.

The buyers in this flesh for sale crime are libertines with designs that compel abducted women to suffer the whims of others.

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Justine is naked and humiliated by the proceedings. The bidding is fierce with Juliette going against Rodin who is present with his possessions, Ompahle and Rosalie.

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Our virtuous misfortunate is inspected (the marks of her beating at the hands of Jasmin are severe) and sold to Rodin. Juliette loses to the villain here, but will triumph in the end.

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Justine’s nightmare of confinement and torture amidst Rodin’s political and philosophical arguments is just beginning.

*          *          *

I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that the performers in Jac Avila/Amy Hesketh films are truly a neighborhood theater group much like Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater on the Air in the age of Radio.

Having fun among friends is an ingredient Pachamama/Decadent camaraderie carries into every film.

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Barbazul, Part Four: Wanna do it Here?

by Rich Moreland, September 2016

Determining a magnum opus for any artist is a moving target. For Amy Hesketh, her definitive film is yet to be settled upon, though reviews of Olalla (2015) and La Marquis de la Croix (2012) suggest they are leading contenders.

However, Barbazul cannot be ignored. In fact, it may be better than all her films because of the deep psychological interplay within Bluebeard’s personality that creates the duality of character and killer.

Amy’s production is more than an “art film” or a melodrama designed to shock because the story speaks to our interpersonal relationships and the miseries they can cause.  The fear of rejection and the pleasure of revenge . . . if just as a fantasy to even the score . . . haunts all of us.

Mop and Pail

“A few kisses in the night are not the end of the world,” Maga croons.

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With a highly sexualized demeanor and eyes that promise attention, she’s smooth and silky. Spotting Bluebeard across the room, Maga casts her line. The band takes a break; they hook up instantly.

Later on a picnic, Bluebeard and Maga play a game: label the wine with a band. He suggests Led Zepplin (Stairway to Heaven, perhaps?); she counters with the Sex Pistols (Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, anyone?)

In a seemingly frivolous moment, Bluebeard says, “Enjoy your time here while it lasts.”

In other words, this is just a diversion, a fling, as Maga’s song tells us.

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The singer likes the plantation as one would the Copacabana during a winter escape. But she must go back to the city, musical commitments to fulfill, you know. Bluebeard will have none of that and drives a knife into her gut while she dresses, an unexpected surprise.

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Incredulous, the entertainer stumbles onto the porch. Bluebeard casually places the knife on the dresser, puts his hands in his pockets, and follows her. In a well shot scene, Maga’s unintended version of crawling undoubtedly amuses Bluebeard.

The blood flows.

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He finishes her with the scarf.

bbz-08dWalter gets the mop, pail, and towels.

Maga is a nod to a frivolous side of Bluebeard’s personality he considers hardly worth a mention. There is no sex scene and no nudity . . . sort of, Bluebeard lets the blade relish the flesh.

Like Maga, it’s just a silly kiss in the night.

barbazul01111627The Lady in Red

The next stop is a museum. By chance, Bluebeard meets the lady in red, Agata. The theme is huntress versus The Virgin as displayed in the artwork that winds its way around their conversation. She asks for his preference, prepared to offer him both. Her demise is a cruel joke because she is no Madonna and hardly a Diana.

Agata is the hunted from the beginning.

When they first have sex, Agata extends her arms in a crucifixion position as Bluebeard pumps away. Her expression exudes pain with ecstasy.

In an overhead shot, burning candles are on both side tables. The scene has a religious overtone with the sex ritualistic in nature, a blend of ancient paganism and the emergence of the Church.

By the way, Agata is never totally nude, red sheets cover her from mid-torso down (is the blood of redemption everywhere?). Nakedness is a measure of a woman’s sexual arousal to Bluebeard and we see Agata and Maga as minimized and easily dismissed.

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At dinner, Agata makes it clear that life on the plantation suits her and she intends to stay, but she has no use for Walter. Her fawning bores Bluebeard. When he picks up bread from his plate, she puts her hand over his in a gesture of control. His body language tells all; he leans away.

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On her death night, Agata’s head is at the foot of the bed. Bluebeard comes over and ties her arms in a spread-eagled position. Forever the fool, she thinks it’s exciting, but her expression soon turns to desperation.

He strangles her in a metaphorical upside down crucifixion position that reminds the viewer of the death of St. Peter who regarded himself vastly inferior to Christ.

Certainly Agata is unworthy of Annabelle the film suggests, tongue firmly planted in cheek.

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Is this Bluebeard’s attempt to reconcile his spiritual side with his Jekyll and Hyde contradiction?

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After Agata’s last breath, Bluebeard puts on his slippers and walks out of the room, leaving the mess behind for Walter, we assume.

Excuse Me?

Maga and Agata are stopovers that prepare Bluebeard to confront the abyss of his most highly sexualized shadow: his sadism. After that, he will search for solitude (Soledad) as his companion . . .

But first we move to a randy scenario that is a salute to wit and dark humor: Jane.

In a playful nod to her early modeling career and eventual transition into filmmaking, Amy Hesketh casts herself as Bluebeard’s next victim. Wearing the pink polka-dotted dress that hangs last in line in the plantation office, she’s sitting on a park bench, notebook in hand, smoking a cigarillo.

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Bluebeard slips next to her and inquires as to what she is writing.

She introduces herself.

He knows her from her photos, he says, and repeats his question.

“My next book,” she answers.

“Another one of your famous erotic S & M tales?”

Offering his hand, he says, “Bluebeard.”

“Excuse me?”

“Barbazul,” he repeats, “like the fairytale.”

Is she interested in drink?

“I only date fictional characters,” she whimsically replies.

“Do fairytale characters count,” he asks.

Jane smiles, “I guess.”

It’s the moment that breaks the fourth wall and lets the viewer in on the game.

Harder

There are no preliminaries with Jane. She is in control of her fantasies and has minimal interest in yielding to the whims of others if they don’t match hers.

The tone of their relationship is immediate. She will use Bluebeard as easily as he believes he is using her.

Jane, like Amy Hesketh I suspect, is a feminist.

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In a garden setting Jane is at work, pen in hand; a cigarillo dangles from her lips. Bluebeard looks around the corner and asks if she is “coming” (well, not yet, she needs a well-delivered preliminary activity!).

The writer smiles, puts down her notebook and grabs the upper support of the arbor with both hands, stretching out her arms.

“Wanna to do it here?”

With Jane there’s more to dangling than a smoke.

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“I’m more traditional,” he says, removing her cigarillo. They walk off arm-in-arm. Bare-legged she’s wearing thin panties and heeled espadrilles that promise all that is raw and raunchy.

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In the bedroom, the Jane digs out handcuffs and a whip from under the pillows and gives them to Bluebeard. She knows what she likes in a scene that is classic Amy Hesketh.

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When her working over begins, Jane grimaces and says, “harder.” The sex that follows is as nasty as her salacious novels, but that suits the S&M author just fine.

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Later Bluebeard approaches her at night in the garden where she is again writing. He’s brought her toys, he says. She puts him off momentarily.

Breaking the tried and true rule that everything is consensual in BDSM play, an annoyed Bluebeard ignores her. Amy Hesketh is now in her favorite role, the victim punished for her tormentor’s pleasure.

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He binds her, arms extended, and tears away her clothing. Crying, she begs him to stop. The extended whipping scene is topped off with a garrotting.

One more shadow is put to rest, this time more formally with an execution-like conclusion. In a bodacious performance, Amy Hesketh salutes the Grand Guignol’s legendary Paula Maxa.

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Walter appears with shovels and clear plastic wrap. In a particular gruesome scene that features a mummification fetish, Jane awakens, verifying a traditional fear that has haunted civilization from its beginning.

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But that is only part of the scene’s importance. Bluebeard can never put to rest his sexual aggression and the blood that flows from it. Even solitude will not satisfy him.

Somewhere deep within his past and his inner self, it became a part of who he is that cannot be suffocated. Simply put, our sexuality is never extricated or disentangled from who we are, no matter our fetishes or proclivities.

Of all the scenes Amy Hesketh and Jac Avila have played together, this is among the best. It speaks to the heart of their cinematic collaboration.

There’s more to come as the story reverts to Soledad and Bluebeard’s return to the plantation with her sister Ana. But, that’s not for here. Buy this film and see the bizarre conclusion for yourself.

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What to Make of this Film

Amy Hesketh’s version of Bluebeard is hard to pin down. Is he a misogynist or a serial killer or both? Perhaps he is just a man whose warped view of all women was triggered by the one woman who toyed with his emotions?

Or does Bluebeard suffer from a personality disorder in which attachments and emotional bonds are weak but ephemeral relationships easy to form? Does he get off on manipulating and exploiting women until ennui sets in? Is he afraid of his own sexuality in such a way as to self-emasculate, leaving violence in the place of real affection?

On the other hand, perhaps Bluebeard hides his inability to “feel” under a thin veneer of infatuation. He fears rejection and offs his women to keep them around, the ultimate expression of aggression and control.

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In the Jungian sense, however, each of Bluebeard’s victims represents an insatiable part of his sexual self that Bluebeard must cast away to reach his core: his prepubescent innocence.

Take a look: Annabelle is the beautiful, unattainable, and the ultimate put down; Soledad is the submissive and pliant; Maga is the cheap trick and Agata the disdain for the morally righteous.

But Jane is Bluebeard’s emotional Dracula, the raw sexual aggression that lives eternally in every male, overwhelmingly desirable and uncontrollably demanding.

In the end, misogyny is not the villain of this story as it is with Charles Perrault’s fairy tale, nor are Bluebeard’s paraphilias to blame for his actions.

Rather, the malefactor is anger and rejection driven by an immature sexuality that objectives women, an all too common malady among men.

Incidentally, during the film I thought the best place to conceal the bodies would be in the casks of wine. Perhaps now we know what the dead mouse was trying to tell Annabelle when she walked by it . . .

*          *         *

Congratulations to Amy Hesketh for a provocative and dark interpretation of a long-recorded tale.

Barbazul is a film that begs to be seen again and again.

The cast at the premier.

The cast at the premier.

 

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Barbazul, Part Three: I Want to Go Away

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.

*          *          *

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.”

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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.

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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.”

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“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.

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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.

Suicide?

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.

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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.

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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.

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During the tour of the wine casks, she is indifferent, unlike Soledad who is impressed with facility.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Over dinner Bluebeard and Annabelle fall out. She takes off her clothes and goes to bed, but that doesn’t silence the  argument.

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“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.

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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.

A Menagerie

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.

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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.

*          *          *

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.

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And like every good director, Amy Hesketh strives to capture the perfect scene.

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Barbazul, Part Two: The Dangling Key

by Rich Moreland, September 2016

In thinking about Barbazul, I ran various interpretations through my mind. This is the one I settled upon.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films and Decadent Cinema.

*          *          *

The Taproot

For fans of Amy Hesketh films, the opening credits of Barbazul provide a glimpse into the erotic expectations she offers. Amy’s character is flogged and garroted in an outdoor nighttime scene. But hold on, this is not a BDSM film. Rather it is a bizarre and finely crafted journey of a man in search of his soul.

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For the religious, salvation requires pain, suffering and death: the birth-death-rebirth archetype found in all ancient civilizations. As I’ve previously written, the theme of rebirth is ever-present in a Pachamama/Decadent production, though not always in the politest of ways.

In Barbazul, Amy’s Bluebeard desires to connect with himself, to confront and conquer the shadows within his personality that torment him. It’s a form of redemption.

There is one problem, however. Corpses of the fairer sex litter the path along the way.

Here’s why.

Psychologist Carl Jung asserts that to become a whole person we must reconcile the subdued side of our personality with its dominate side. In one respect, it’s gender oriented. The duality of anima (female) and animus (male) come into play in determining behavior.

To look at it in non-gendered way, we show our public front, our persona, while we cope with our less well-developed self, our shadow. The persona is often a mask, very much like an avatar, while the shadow is real, our darkest feelings and urges similar to Freud’s infantile id.

Throughout the process, we are subjected to a myriad of human emotions, among them the drive for success, love, and empowerment and their opposites, anxiety, hatred, and fear.

However, the most painful emotion is rejection . . . and that is the taproot of the Barbazul story for anger and hurt can fester on the underside of who we are.

Amy Hesketh’s scriptwriting and direction artfully explores this dichotomy and Bluebeard’s struggle to find its resolution within himself.

Buying His Bride

In the film’s opening scene a young woman dressed in black is seductively climbing a rocky terrace. It’s a photo shoot and she is as primordial as she can get. Bluebeard (Jac Avila), a man of means in Amy Hesketh’s story as he is in Charles Perrault’s, is on hand to watch.

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He likes his women crawling and slithering, the temptress archetype exhibiting her basest instincts.

barbazul00020303-300x168The cameraman, Paul (Erix Antoine) is overly critical of his model, Soledad (Mila Joya), referring to her as a “useless cunt.”

When the shoot takes a break, the belittled girl is approached by Bluebeard.

He invites her to dinner and the romancing begins.

Perrault’s Bluebeard is physically unattractive, not so in Amy Hesketh’s interpretation of the story. And, she’s given her Barbazul an easy way with women.

With the demure Soledad we are introduced to Bluebeard’s modus operandi that includes picnics and boat rides in the park. Offered a ring, she accepts and the scene shifts quickly to a hotel room for a premarital romp.

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Bluebeard instructs her undress but modesty prevails and she doesn’t remove her undies . . . the reality of the temptress quickly fades.

“Do you remember what you were doing when we met? Do it now,” Bluebeard insists with quiet firmness.

Soledad gets on the bed and crawls toward him.

As a sign of commitment, Bluebeard’s women wear the ring on their right hand as is customary in some European and Latin American countries. In the story it’s a single ring removed from one woman and passed to the next.

Incidentally, Bluebeard marries only one of his fiancées, Annabelle, but curiously the ring is not shifted to her left hand in the usual practice.

Later Bluebeard dines with his intended and her sister. Soledad is shy and a little nervous, perhaps caused by naiveté or an innate fear that something isn’t right. (Interestingly, she remains barefoot through much of the film, existing in an infantile state like young girls in Perrault’s time.)

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Hearing of his plans, the sister, Ana (Mariella Salaverry), remarks, “You’re buying her. Do whatever you want.”

Soledad bows her head in shame. They have no parents to protect them, a set-up for disaster.

Off to the Plantation

With his betrothed beside him, Bluebeard drives the dusty road into the countryside. Isolation and desolation frame the visual theme with aerial shots of the jeep snaking through the mountains. The road is descending at first, then climbs to reach the metaphoric height of loneliness.

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At this point, the narrative shifts to the hacienda. In fact, it’s one of the movie’s central characters, its persona and shadow a reflection of Bluebeard himself.

Walter (Beto Lopez), Bluebeard’s alter ego, acts as butler and “administrator” of the estate. Walter’s appearance is a counterpoint to Bluebeard’s. He is clean-shaven, prim, proper, and dresses immaculately.

He’s also sinister and secretive.

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Incidentally, clothing is a major image in this film. For the women it’s dresses; for the men, neckware.

More formal than Bluebeard’s scarves, Walter’s ties are displayed in a colorful collection that corresponds to the rack of dresses in Bluebeard’s forbidden room. Neatness counts, of course. Walter is there to help Bluebeard keep up appearances.

One of Bluebeard’s women, Agata, insults him when she suggests they get rid of Walter (impossible, of course, because he is Bluebeard’s second self). On the other hand, Ana later suggests Walter should get a raise. Listening, the butler smiles wryly, smokes a cigarette and carries his own ashtray while he awaits the final bloodbath.

Empty Spaces

The plantation house feels empty and lonely. Upon arriving, Bluebeard opens a gate to go in. It carries a jail cell image in a shot that is heavily shadowed. At the end of a long veranda, Soledad walks from light into darkness.

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Bluebeard’s bedroom is sparse with a weary, depleted feel that is mirrored in Bluebeard’s expression when the film concludes. Notice the dresser/chest of drawers outside the bedroom door. Some of the drawer pulls are intact, others absent, and a couple replaced with short pieces of rope.

They reveal Bluebeard’s ritual. Women begin as decorations then die by strangulation leaving empty spaces.

The Chapel

Bluebeard takes Soledad on a bike ride around the estate (Annabelle refuses his offer, as we’ll see). They stop at the chapel where the camera focuses on statuary of a weeping Madonna and a Madonna and child. A male figure with a dangling key on a red cord is emphasized in a subtle tribute to Charles Perrault.

The icons are delicate but lack animation.

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He wants to know if Soledad likes the chapel.

“Will we get married here?” she asks.

Though a crucified Christ is within sight, Soledad is clueless as to what awaits her.

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Amy Hesketh now directly references Perrault’s story. Bluebeard gives Soledad the keys to the house and mentions there is a room she is not to enter. He knows she will, of course, but says nothing.

Later when they have sex in his bedroom, there is a burning candle (male desire and empowerment) on each side of the shelf above the bed. There is another phallic symbol, a print of the Eiffel Tower. There is no companion print of female sexuality.

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Soledad learns Bluebeard is leaving for the city and will return with her sister.

Alone the next morning, she goes to the dresser for her robe and finds a portfolio of photographs. Some are nudes. She lays them out on the bed before returning them to the drawer.

Picking up the keys, she’s ready to sate her curiosity.

Getting to Annabelle

barbazul00351719-300x168Having finished shaving, Walter notices Soledad headed for the forbidden room. He goes into a small bedroom and picks out the first tie to the left.

All is going according to plan.

Compared with the austere interior of the house, the office, for that is what it appears to be, is cluttered most likely because Walter avoids it.

There’s an old dusty wall telephone, a cash register that dates back at least a hundred years, and a desk with an old-fashioned adding machine. Newspapers and journals are scattered about. On another table there appear to be chemical containers.

Is the winemaking business still alive because in this room not everything is?

At this stage of her story, Amy Hesketh deviates from Perrault. There are no suspended corpses or pools of blood, just a tired looking office. The plantation teaches us that appearances can deceive.  The shadow forever lingers beneath the persona.

Oh yes, don’t forget that rack of dresses nicely displayed in a line just to the right of the office door. The first is a black mini, the last a pink polka-dot; a dark sequined one and a red outfit are in between. As we will come to realize, an extra dress hangs alongside the others. Is it reserved for Soledad?

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And, of course, prominently placed on the desk where it can’t be missed is a black bound journal. Soledad, like the young wife in Charles Perrault’s story, is consumed with the fatal flaw of curiosity. She spots it and can’t resist it’s contents.

No problem, Bluebeard wants his imprisoned prey to read about those who came before her.

That brings us to Annabelle and the next post in this series . . .

*          *          *

DVDs of Barbazul can be ordered from Vermeerworks and Amazon

Amy Hesketh is on twitter and Facebook. Her website can be found here.

 

 

 

 

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Barbazul, Part One: Cut Off Her Head

by Rich Moreland, September 2016

At Jac Avila’s recommendation, I watched Amy Hesketh’s Barbazul, a Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema production. The film is a thought-provoking drama that dances between erotic horror and a psychological thriller.

In this first installment of a four part review, we take a look at the original story.

*          *          *

The fairy tale as we know it today is a product of the Golden Age of Hollywood, cleaned up by the Disney people so as not to offend. But what about the original tales? They come from all cultures though the ones we’re most familiar with have European roots that reach across the continent.

The most popular stories come from the Brothers Grimm, who lived in Germany in the 1800s. But there are early well-known versions from France via Charles Perrault, a 17th century lawyer who turned his hand to writing. He specialized in morality tales and penned stories such as Mother Goose, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and the subject of this review, Bluebeard.

0_942da_3d44e4ec_origWhat we forget is this. Perrault’s narratives are grisly in nature. Little Red Riding Hood is stalked by a sexual predator when she ventures alone into the woods. Don’t we warn our children about strangers?

In Sleeping Beauty, the prince revives his beloved, they marry and have two children. The mother-in-law (Queen Mother) is not pleased and demands the children and their mother be cooked and served well done.

When that culinary plan falls through, she prepares to toss them into a vat of “vipers, snakes, and serpents,” Perrault writes. Her vengence will be satisfied and the little slithering rascals will enjoy a pleasant, but perhaps overly crowded, feast of their own.

Keeping all of this in mind, let’s take a further look at Bluebeard, a tale of dripping blood and curiosity that went too far.

The Dropped Key

Bluebeard, as the story goes, is a man “so ugly and frightening that women and girls fled at the sight of him.” Nevertheless, this man of means marries the youngest daughter of a “high-class lady” using his wealth to woo her with “picnics and parties.” The outcome is a May-December marriage.

Illustration by Gustave Dore

Illustration by Gustave Dore

Later Bluebeard takes a trip and leaves his wife the keys to the house with instructions to stay away from a certain room “at the end of the gallery.” Bluebeard’s warning reflects 17th century thinking. Women were expected to act within established boundaries and ask no questions.

“Open everything, go everywhere, but I forbid you to enter that little room,” he says, promising she will a pay price if she disobeys.

Not surprisingly, curiosity gets the best of the young woman and she searches out the room despite knowing punishment awaits her. “The temptation was too strong for her to resist,” Perrault writes.

Unlocking the door, she discovers the floor “sticky with clotted blood.” Reflected in this glistening pool were “the corpses of several women, hanging up along the wall.” They were Bluebeard’s previous wives “whose throats he had cut, one after another,” Perrault tells the reader.

Illustration by Hermann Vogel

Illustration by Hermann Vogel

Terrified, the bride drops the key which is quickly doused in the red stuff. She tries to clean it repeatedly, but it becomes “enchanted” and the stain never goes away.

When Bluebeard returns, the girl is quickly outed by the bloody key. Pressed for an explanation, her denials are unconvincing, sealing her fate.

“You will take your place beside the ladies you saw there,” he shouts, but does concede her a little time before his cutlass will do its work.

All seems lost though the lass does have a chance. She entreats her sister to keep watch for their brothers who are due to arrive at any moment. Desperation sets in as the final hour creeps closer and closer. But good fortune intervenes. The brothers break in just as Bluebeard is “ready to cut off her head.”

The day is saved and the young wife, despite her disobedience, becomes “mistress of all his belongings” because Bluebeard had no heirs.

A Paltry Pleasure

Perrault leaves the reader with the moral of the tale. “Curiosity has its lure,” he says, but it is a “paltry kind of pleasure and a risky game.” Simply put, this episode is the fault of the young bride who doesn’t understand her place in the household.

But, it is a fairy tale, uncomplicated and straight forward. Explanations for cruel behavior are unneeded in a patriarchal society. In the 1600s women were to do as they were told.

In her film, Barbazul, writer and director Amy Hesketh explores what is unsaid in Perrault’s narrative. She builds a back story around each of the wives and offers the viewer a surprising and chilly ending that leaves more questions than it answers.

In doing so, she explores the mind of a killer in ways unimagined in the Frenchman’s time.

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Artfully done, Barbazul gives the initial impression of following Charles Perrault. The young wife, Soledad, like Perrault’s creation, is the subject of the film, or so it seems. But that is not Amy Hesketh’s intention.

You see, Barbazul is about Bluebeard and his attempts to exorcise his demons. The film is a strange, dark, psychological journey of man who has a personality disorder at best and is a serial killer at worse.

One more point.

Bluebeard is a misogynist in Perrault story, we suppose, but there is no convincing explanation. Does Amy’s film verify that label for her Barbazul and does that define his murderous inclinations?

In the next three posts, we’ll take a look.

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Jac Avila, Part Three: The Body in Pain

by Rich Moreland, August 2016

My thanks to Jac avila for sharing his views on film making and culture. I look forward to reviewing more of his work in the future.

All photos in this and the preceding posts are courtesy of Pachamama Films and Decadent Cinema. Vermeerworks is their distributor.

*          *          *

Jac and Amy on the set of Justine

Jac and Amy Hesketh on the set of the upcoming film, Justine

A Set of Values

In Jac Avila’s films there is a distinct theological undercurrent. In helping us understand how it complements his work, Jac begins with a snapshot of religion and society.

“Catholicism in South America and most of Europe, particularly Italy and Spain, is more a part of culture than religion,” he explains. For many of the faithful, it’s “a set of values,” a good mixture of  belief with “plenty of mythology” tossed in, “most of it not taken seriously.”

“However, when one grows up inside Catholicism, one is taught to love that culture,” he declares, though it “tries unsuccessfully, to repress a large part of one’s humanity, like sexuality.”

Of course, Christianity is closely linked to suffering . . . a natural human state. But, then again, so is sexuality. Is there a connection?

Blood Sacrifice

“In Catholic culture, the body in pain plays a crucial role with Christ at the center,” Jac continues. It’s really “blood sacrifice as redemption.”

This idea dates back to the Early Middle Ages as the church was making the transition from its birth in the Roman Empire to its place as Europe’s centralized institution.

But we need to remember that crucifixion, the ultimate “body in pain” statement, was around long before Christianity. That Christ and some of the Saints were crucified is more coincidental to their condemnation during Roman times when dying on the cross was the established demise for society’s outcasts and outlaws.

Roman times. Mila Joya in Dead But Dreaming.

Mila Joya’s character faces death in Dead But Dreaming’s flashback to Roman times.

From there, the diabolical combination of torture and death moved out of the Roman Empire into the next historical period.

“In medieval times this (The Body in Pain) symbol took over. Executions were cruel and public, so was penance,” Jac reminds us.

Incidentally, the public fascination with death lingered into the 19th century as Jac illustrates in Dead But Dreaming when the Irish traveler is garrotted before onlookers.

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Jac then cites the distinction between the Catholic and Protestant interpretation of sexuality.

“Catholic imagery is full of The Body in Pain, a beautiful body, always, either male or female, almost nude or totally nude, with an expression of bliss in the very moment of martyrdom.”

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Elaborating on the visual impact of a crucifixion, Jac explains, “The school I attended was full of those images. Beautiful paintings expressing exactly that. Catholicism is far less repressed sexually than Evangelical, Calvinist, Lutheran Christianity.”

He follows that thought with a quick history lesson.

“The framing of the body in medieval Europe, was intrinsic to the historical moment.  Humanity was moving from an agrarian culture to the beginnings of city culture. Social interactions were changing dramatically. The image of the body as symbol became pervasive,” he says.

Jac regards the 12th century (1100s) as a pivotal time in the emergence of the body as art.

“The Church had the most power in influencing most everything,” he notes, which lasted until the Renaissance, a time “when art flourished and thought was liberated by Thomas de Aquinas (Catholic theologian and Scholastic) when he gave some long overdue importance to humans.”

For the most part, Medieval art is purely religious with Christ “an overpowering figure taking up the entire frame,” Jac suggests.

In other words, man is not celebrated. The heavenly bliss of eternity and the proper way to get there occupied Medieval artists, who, incidentally, never signed their work.

By the Renaissance, change was on the horizon. The ideals of humanism were infused into culture, at least in the Italian City-States where money patronized the arts. The result? Art and literature achieved a secular focus.

As for art’s theological representations, Jac gives us this example. We see the Virgin Mary as “a real woman breast-feeding a child,” a cultural broadening influenced by Aquinas.

And somewhere along the way, our sexual fascination with crucifixion and suffering took hold.

Feminism

So, what about the sacred feminism popular in pre-Christian cultures?  I suggest the Church patriarchy had some issues with this idea. Jac spins it less severely.

“Catholic doctrine did not do away with the Divine Fem all together. Mary was and is an object of worship almost equal to God, she’s more accessible; she is the mother. But yes, women were repressed of course, but so were men. The great fear is the true liberation of mankind. We’re all afraid of freedom. I don’t think we’d know what to do with it.”

Mila Joya and Amy Hesketh in Maleficarum's execution scene, a reminder of the Church's fear of witches.

The Church’s fear of witches and it’s repression of women in Maleficarum’s execution scene.

I agree with the repression/freedom argument. Certainly the Church did not abide heresies and especially witches and warlocks. By the 15th century the Inquisition (the subject of Jac’s film, Maleficarum) was holding court. Credit Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella for making sure everyone toed the religious line.

The Church court extracts a confession from Amy's character in Maleficarum.

Inquisition torture extracts a confession from Amy Hesketh’s character in Maleficarum.

Regardless, Jac steps up his defense of the Sacred Feminine.

“In Catholicism women have a high place because of the Virgin, The Mother of God herself. Catholicism is not as patriarchal as it may seem to be. What we may be expressing is that women, just like men, have the same or more capacity to suffer for humanity.

“In that sense, female martyrdom gets equal treatment… or better yet, takes the main role. The strongest character in Catholicism is Saint Eulalia. She’s crucified twice.”

Of interest is that the original St. Elulia, the reference in Jac’s film Martyr discussed in a previous post, was, according to legend, a teenage virgin tortured and crucified on a St. Andrew’s Cross.

Carmen Paintoux

Carmen Paintoux in Martyr.

So there we have it. Do the images from Jac’s films energize the sexual question?

The Guignol Again

Despite the Church’s efforts, the uneducated retained their superstitions and out of this, particularly in Central Europe, phantasmagoric visions and stories emerged of evil forces beyond human control.

“As you know, most of the horror stories, like vampires, come from the old tales of old Europe, which come from far back in time,” Jac points out.

Veronica Paintoux

Veronica Paintoux as the Lamia.

And as we move from Medieval into modern times, with stops for the Enlightenment and Romantic Periods, superstition and the supernatural forces that go bump in the night linger in the human psyche.

It’s not a leap to understand that our world is still fascinated by cruelty, especially sexual torture, and can’t look away.

Our repressed blood lust comes to life with vampire stories and today’s slasher films which tap into horror as it emerged out of the Victorian Age into modern Europe.

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But we don’t need the fantastic to energize our sexual interests. Human depravity played out realistically on a stage will do.

th“The Grand Guignol has its roots in that period of time where executions were performances for the masses. That’s why Guignol was also described as the Theatre of Cruelty,” Jac explains.

In fact, the Parisian stage and the fascination with crucifixion fuel the star power of Amy, Mila Joya, and the Paintoux sisters, Carmen and Veronica.

Brew the mixture of history, religion, and sex into a cauldron of savagery and sadism and what emerges is a new version of the erotic horror genre that is distinctly Jac’s and Amy’s, Olalla being the latest in a line of powerful films.

Framing the Body

“Not everything medieval was cruelty, of course,” Jac continues.

“There was a nurturing, serene, body sharing space with a conflicted body torn by desires, fantasies and that other body, the one in pain, dismembered, racked, whipped. The education of the masses by framing the body became all important.”

Mila Joya tortured in Maleficarum

Mila Joya’s character exemplifies “the body in pain” in Maleficarum . . .

Finally, the native Bolivian offers these comments on Amy’s Hesketh’s approach to her acting.

“As far as Amy’s performance in the films, like in Dead But Dreaming or Olalla I can say that those scenes are the way they are because of the stories. This goes to the Body in Pain discussion. The body as a central symbol in culture, but as it was seen in medieval culture, where much of the representations we have now originate.”

Maleficarum's roasting scene.

. . . As does Amy Hesketh in the film’s roasting scene, a particularly difficult and emotional shoot.

That is where Amy seduces the camera like no other actor.

To reassure the fainthearted, Jac leaves us this note about female performers in his films. Yes, they illustrate the Grand Guignol stage, as noted above, and all its perceived brutality, but there is more.

“Acting in these movies is, in a sense, empowering. The actress has complete control over her body, mind, and soul, to do anything she wants to do.”

That in itself is an empowering feminist statement.

Amy, Jac, and Mila.

Amy, Jac, and Mila . . . artists, innovators, and a new film intelligensia.

 

 

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Jac Avila, Part Two: That Fantastic Thing

by Rich Moreland, August 2016

In this post, we’ll find out about Jac Avila’s background and his view on the female characters he creates.

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Jac Avila as actor.

Jac Avila as actor.

Jac Avila is of international stock. His father was from Holland and his mother, Bolivia, giving him a heritage that is Dutch, Spanish, Basque, and French.

Born in Bolivia, Jac grew up in a Catholic society, a culture that takes on its own identity and values which many Americans don’t grasp. We tend to compartmentalize religion, often limiting it to merely attending church, and don’t see it as a larger social/cultural ingredient in our lives.

On the other hand, a Catholic society is overarching, emphasizing spiritual issues without negating worldly values. For example, it insists that learning take center stage in a child’s life.

“I was educated in the most exclusive Jesuit school in La Paz,” Jac points out with pride. “The education was secular with a big emphasis on science. No conflict there. As a matter of fact, Jesuit priests were very much ahead in everything. The religious aspects of our education was a mixture of ethics, morals, mysticism and the understanding that a great part of the Bible is rather symbolic and mythological.”

Sadly, his mother passed away before Jac entered his teenage years. His father moved Jac and his brothers to New York City where the future actor/director/producer studied movie making, art, and photography.

The Blue Buick

“After graduation I started working at CBS and later at a photo studio specializing in advertising. I quit my job in 1979 to become an independent filmmaker. By 1982 I was making my first film in Haiti and Cuba by way of New York and Miami,” Jac explains.

The film premiered at Cannes in 1988.

“It took me that long to make it,” he confesses, not surprising under the circumstances.

krikKrakPosterFacing expenses that can easily derail projects, Jac spent most of his time doing what indie filmmakers learn is part of the game: meeting the right people and raising money.

The film was Krik? Krak! Tales of a Nightmare which Jac co-produced and directed with Vanyoske Gee. Jac characterizes the production as “a surreal/expressionist docu-nightmare” about the brutal regime of Haiti’s Papa Doc Duvalier that includes the spiritual aspects of Haitian culture.

The work, though difficult, answered “a more political, radical call” for him, Jac declares, and was definitely a “challenge.”

And rewarding . . . the critics received it favorably.

“Le Cahiers Du Cinema, foremost film magazine in France described it as a great horror film in the tradition of Witchcraft Through the Ages,” Jac remembers.

From there he made a television mini-series and a handful of documentaries before shooting a “‘performance'” video, an inexpensive “project that started something unexpected that built everything” he is currently doing.

Jac explains how it happened.

When he was visiting Cuba, he developed a script about a young woman during the island’s colonial days who “has fantasies about being a martyr,” a practice common in “the traditional holy week procession.”

Carmen Paintoux had the lead role in Jac’s mini-series at the time and they discussed staging the girl’s fantasy for video. “During that process, she created Camille who is the central character in Martyr,” Jac says.

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The short film was born and the budding filmmaker’s career took on a new direction.

A remarkable journey for a little boy who saw his first movie at age four. Its violence left an impression. The Film? Walt Disney’s Bambi.

“I don’t remember anything before the movie. I remember everything after the movie, even the song that was playing on the radio when my uncle drove us back home in his blue Buick.

“From that moment on all I wanted in life was to know about that fantastic thing I experienced that day.

Magic to Art

Considering what he’s told me, I ask Jac if he designs his films to be political and religious commentaries.

“Not necessarily,” he begins. “Art is beyond those limiting systems. While religion tries and fails to interpret the unknown and the mysterious, politics often try, earnestly, to fit a square into a triangle, with fatal results.”

Having said that, Jac admits his explanation may sound  “a bit simplistic, since both religion and politics are mechanisms humanity uses to organize itself into something manageable.”

“In a way, mankind created gods to control itself,” he believes. But in time, more practical attitudes took shape and the overarching role of the gods receded in favor of elected leaders in civilizations like Classical Greece, for example.

Nevertheless, there is a magic to art, Jac insists.

“Art interprets what we see and turns everything on its head, art can also imagine a million futures and a million pasts. We don’t mock religion or politics [in our films], it’s just our artistic view of humanity.

“I honestly hope that our audience enjoys our movies for what they are and take from them what they feel like taking. I don’t really mind if they hate our movies. I love it if they love them. I hate it if they are indifferent.”

The Heroines

Fair enough. Now what can we say about women as they are presented in a Pachamama film? Are they captives of their own compulsions, unable to forge their own destinies, as might seem at first glance?

Jac gives us his view, beginning with Ollala.

“Olalla and Ofelia (Olalla’s sister) are not weak because women are not weak. This nonsense of the weaker sex is just that, nonsense. Patriarchy is a response to that strength. At one point men felt the compulsive need to control women first and other men second.”

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With a moment’s pause, he adds, “Religion and politics are attempts to control, to make everything fit a pattern that can be controlled. That’s a very primitive view of life.”

It just so happens that when it comes to Church and society, the simpler, the better.

“There’s nothing more scary than women taking over, like in Olalla when she sucks the blood out of her boyfriend. It scares even women, so they have to burn Olalla’s mother,” Jac says.

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What about the other films we’ve mentioned?

Jac has his thoughts.

“The female vampires in Dead But Dreaming survive cruel torment, the accused witches overcome their death sentences in Maleficarum.

bts dead 5 on our way

“Is Varna [in Dead But Dreaming] taking the route Moira took? Will Justine go on after her ordeal is over?”

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Jac states that women in his films are his main focus, and I might add, his source of strength.

“The principal characters in all my movies, including Krik? Krak! are, for some reason, women. They are the heroines in all my stories. Men take second place either as aggressors or victims.

“Even in the miniseries El Hombre de la Luna, where I play the central character, an attorney/painter investigating the death of a young woman, the women in the story solve the problem and rescue the attorney from certain death.”

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But Jac’s women do suffer and it seems to have a sexual theme. So how does pain work into the art he and his filming partner Amy Hesketh create?

We’ll look at that next.

 

 

 

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