Tag Archives: Barbazul

Reflections on Sirwiñakuy

by Rich Moreland, June 2017

From the movie source IMDb about Sirwiñakuy:

The story of an obsessive relationship between a young French woman and an older Bolivian man. Their unusual romance, like the country in which they live, is transforming, sometimes violent and difficult to understand.

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Finally creating some time to watch Sirwiñakuy, a 2010 release from Pachamama Films, I recognized immediately it wasn’t supercharged like Dead But Dreaming, Olalla, Barbazul, or Justine, so my viewer “sleepwalking” kicked in after the first few minutes.

I did get through the opening Cafe scene where Luis (Jac Avila) picks up Anouk (Veronica Paintoux) after director Amy Hesketh has her Hitchcock moment. Not much here, I thought, other than a smidgen of a Bolivian street scene travelogue featuring a local hangout.

About an hour and forty minutes later it was over.

When I popped up Microsoft word on my computer to take a few quick notes to prepare for this “review,” I had nothing much to say.

Why?

Easy. I have “great expectations,” as Charles Dickens would say, for the innovative work of Amy Hesketh and Jac Avila but Sirwiñakuy didn’t deliver, or so it appeared.

But the truth did not lie within the film. My lack of appreciation for  Sirwiñakuy was rooted in my failure as a viewer. I didn’t pay attention to what was in front of me and I know better than that.

My “Oh Hum”

To put it another way, watching Sirwiñakuy reminded me of my university days when on rare occasions I snoozed in class. Whenever that happened, behavior modification was promptly needed so I’d go back to “the house” (yes, I was a frat boy, quite an admission in these days of fraternity vilification) for a nap. College is a waste if you can’t stay awake. My parental units were paying the bills and there were too many excellent profs at my school not to fully absorb what they had to say.

For Sirwiñakuy, a similar correction was in order. But in this case, it had nothing to do with physical or mental fatigue . . . or meeting someone else’s expectations, for that matter.

Here’s the real reason.

You see, Sirwiñakuy is Amy’s first film. It’s been around for a while. My mistake was looking at it from the perspective of a body of work that has matured over the years, a group of films I was very familiar with. That’s like taking a hall-of-fame player and analyzing his first game as a rookie. Appearances can be deceptive; conclusions unfair. I was moving in reverse gear with the movie, judging the past on the present.

Look at it this way. I watched Anouk get spanked, but I also remember Veronica Paintoux as Nahara the vampire in Dead, a spectacularly sexy portrayal on her part, and as the elegant Annabelle in Barbazul.

Anouk’s character just didn’t rev up my reviewer engine.

My first viewing sold Sirwiñakuy short and it doesn’t deserve my “oh-hum.” Just because the narrative lacks all those lovely whipping scenes so characteristic of Pachamama/Decadent Films, along with vampire angst, serial killers, female suffering, and theological tyranny (or rigmarole depending on the movie) that begs to be intellectualized, is in no way a takedown of this film.

So what I’ve written here is a process, not a review. Like an archeologist, I wanted to turn the soil on what Amy, Jac, and Veronica do so well in this film.

Rewind

So let’s rewind Sirwiñakuy, electrify our thinking cap, and get to work peeling away the layers that makeup the narrative.

What I’ve come to anticipate from Amy and Jac does not seem obvious at a Sirwiñakuy first glance. I repeat, at first glance because everything is there hiding under the covers, or to be more accurate, behind all those books and portraits from the past that lord over the action.

To delve into the narrative I returned to what shaped my literary education in grad school; I decided to study Sirwiñakuy . . and I mean go over everything in detail!

First, I read every review I could find. Some of them are pretty good and I suggest you google Sirwiñakuy and dive into them yourself. I don’t have a lot to add to what others much smarter than I have said about dramatic intent, imagery, machismo, action shots (taxi ride, taxi ride!) and the natural, always problematic, process of leaving childhood behind (observe the way Anouk randomly stuffs her stuff into her trolley cart and did I mention talking with her mouth full? I can hear my mother now).

Next, I devised a plan to watch the film again but in a different way to uncover its magic.

Ditch the Sound

I recalled what I adore most about Hollywood’s silent film era: faces, eyes and glances, gazing, nods, and expressive movement of hands, in particular. Actors in those days (think the Barrymores) had to emote with their entire physical and emotional consciousness because dialogue was limited to title cards. On screen presence was everything.

Unless the moviegoer was a lip reader, watching carefully to get the story through interpreting the actor, not the voice, was paramount. In other words, the viewer had to lean forward and not be satisfied with distant amusement as later became the habit when “Godzilla Eats Tokyo” in those silly 1950s Atomic Age B-pictures, for example.

Thankfully, silent era animation carried over into some of the great films of the 1930s: John and Lionel Barrymore, Greta Garbo, and Wallace Beery in Grand Hotel in 1932, then John, Lionel, and Wallace again in Dinner at Eight in 1933 and don’t hesitate to fast forward to 1950 and add Gloria Swanson in Sunset Bloulevard.

So, I went into silent movie mode. I turned off the sound (which means I gave up the music not something I would suggest because it is meaningful to the narrative) and relied on closed captioning . . .

. . . And just watched, every moment, every expression, every nuanced look and motion (notice how Anouk uses her eyes to show her annoyance with Luis whose own expression returns fire with quiet bullets of gentle criticism) . . .

I paused the film to study the scenes (love the old house, the eclectic furniture, and all the books) which led to my oft-repeated and inevitable question of “why is that there?” What is the director telling us? What are the actors communicating to each other and to the viewer?

Slowly in its slinky little way, Sirwiñakuy stared back at me with a wagging finger saying “Do you get it now?”

Yes, I do.

Based on its performance alone and the directing that breathes life into it, the film is gutsy. As for the story, it is pretty straight-forward. The complexity of the tale is “inside the characters,” Amy tells us in the commentary section of the DVD.

Creeping Up

Sleepwalking now conquered, what’s next?

The researcher/scholar in me wanted to find what Amy and Jac had to say about the production, so I went to the film again and tuned in on the commentary (for me, it’s like getting an interview).

What I found was verification of my thoughts on certain scenes: the shots of the portraits on the wall between smacks on Anouk’s butt, the Pieta that looms over the couple when Luis draws his bloody “pound of flesh” with the thorns on the red roses, and all those Freudian eating scenes (Bolivians must love their bread and Luis makes sandwiches that are precise and symmetrical in their contents!) just to name a few.

Viewing number three left me with several pages of handwritten notes. Sirwiñakuy is creeping up on me now complemented by Jac Avila, who in his usual graciousness supplied me with vital information about the film. I’ll cover that shortly.

As I indicated above, Amy and Jac have already established a very high bar for all their yet-to-come work. What is remarkable about Sirwiñakuy is in its cinematic expression, and, I might add, Amy’s tightly drawn story that uses quick transitions to keep the viewer engaged and the pace rolling along. There’s no dead time anywhere.

In fact, it is impossible for me to believe this is Amy’s first film. The characters and the scenes are interwoven with the skill of a master craftsman.

Ah, Miss Veronica

A word is due about the captivatingly gorgeous Veronica Paintoux.

She and Amy hardly knew each other when she agreed to do the film. Make no mistake, Veronica is the heartbeat of Sirwiñakuy. Her willingness to do just about anything—I’m talking nude scenes here—to bring the narrative full circle deserves high praise.

Take the masturbation shower episode, for instance, that reveals Anouk’s intentions and drops a few hints about her developing relationship with Luis.

Is she trying to wash away her sexual pleasure or wantonly readying herself to live with this much older man?

Veronica’s talent keeps the viewer on edge, particularly in the scene when she leaves her old clothes in the hotel. It’s symbolic, of course, and almost borders on the hackneyed, but Veronica pulls it off. Anouk’s got a ton of courage now, but for what?

When she hits streets Anouk is naked underneath that awful 1960s topcoat fashion statement Luis bought for her. Her audacity reminds me of the bar scene from The Story of O when O settles gingerly onto the bar stool because there’s nothing between it and the bare flesh under her dress.

She’s blatantly erotic and submissive and coy at the same time.

Oh, let me note, Veronica Paintoux is as natural as her nudity. She wears minimal, if any, make-up which enhances that childlike state Amy wants to reinforce in Anouk’s character.

Toying with a Story

Here’s what Jac has to say about Veronica and Amy and Sirwiñakuy‘s evolution.

“Amy had a story she was toying with, set in France, which in one of our long walks I convinced her to adapt it to Bolivia. In the French version, the guy was French and the woman was American visiting Paris. In the Bolivian version, she made the guy Bolivian and the woman French.

“Amy wanted Veronica to play the woman, she felt that she would be great in that role, she saw her in Martyr (a 2002 production starring Carmen Paintoux) and she liked the chemistry and sexual tension we had in that film.

“It was obvious that I would play the guy, Monsieur Montez. That was the original title, by the way, Monsieur Montez. We opted for Sirwiñakuy when I explained to her the tradition here where a man ‘kidnaps’ a woman, takes her home and after trying out for some time they get married if the situation works.

“Amy liked the idea. A friend of mine is the composer of the title song and Heni, my Hungarian collaborator, now a PHD in anthropology, provided the background for the title.”

In listening to Jac, what I’ve always wondered about Amy Hesketh’s work came to mind again. How personal is the film to her? I have a feeling Amy wrote Sirwiñakuy as a narrative of her own erotic and sexual evolution.

. . . But that is only a guess.

Authentic

Finally, Sirwiñakuy caused a bit of a dustup in Bolivian theaters. Apparently they don’t like BDSM relationships there, too much machismo.

Understandable, but that’s not Sirwiñakuy’s message, so listen up.

The interactions between Luis and Anouk are accurate portrayals of what an authentic Dom/sub arrangement is (to suggest it is master/slave is laughably overblown). In other words, BDSM is an agreed upon sexual interplay within an existing relationship and that’s what the film tells its audience.

Nothing BDSM is twenty-four seven, but when everything heats up, it’s all about the power play moment at hand.

Anouk is an equal partner in their relationship at all times and proves it with her expressions, her eyes, and her moods. She even walks out to think things over.

Pay attention when she takes the whip away from Luis and remember the haircut game. It’s only symbolic because he backs off. Score one for feistiness. Who decides who is in control?

By the way, they sell whips at rural markets in Bolivia which in my view confounds the objections to the film. In the commentary section, Jac mentions whips were around in the society before the Spanish arrived and Amy interjects with a chuckle, “Where there is a whip, there is life, there is BDSM.”

What is not to love about her?

But remember, it’s all consensual.

By the way, Amy adds an adorable touch in the commentary section. She notes that Anouk violates protocol when she sits in “daddy’s” chair to read, behavior that is “not allowed.” Beautiful. Submissives love their daddies. Anouk is learning the ground rules . . . or perhaps she acted deliberately to bank on a “correction” some time later, a little fun with “daddy.”

Keep in mind Anouk is no fawning submissive, but she doesn’t go for the harsher treatment that turns on Anne Desclos’ (Pauline Réage) heroine in O. In fact, Anouk plays an ongoing “cat and mouse” game with Luis throughout the film, thus the wall-mounted drawing of a rodent that pushes back against the overstuffed cat in the apartment.

The little bugger is within full view, but just out of reach of his furry pursuer. BDSM negotiation is always on the table.

A final note for S/M fans . . . if you want to see Luis discipline Anouk with the whip, won’t happen. It’s merely suggested. But take heart, check out Amy and Jac’s later films (under the Pachamama label) for that visual delight. And, consider this. Maybe someday we’ll see their version of O come to the screen . . .

Anouk’s character, much like O’s, is a feminist statement . . . a woman in control. And why not? In my view, Amy Hesketh is a feminist filmmaker in this supposedly post-modern era. Is feminism passé? Perhaps. But after all, I was once a frat guy, so we all have a past, now don’t we?

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Here they are, the three that give Sirwiñakuy its reason to be.

Here’s the director at work:

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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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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.

barbazul01252914

“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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Amy Hesketh, Part One: A Jungian Dream

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

Over the last year I’ve developed an interest in the films of Amy Hesketh, an independent producer, director, and actor, whose work is gaining notice.

Until recently, finding an opportunity to talk with this artistically innovative thirty-something was elusive. Not only is Amy making movies, she is also pursuing her MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) and teaching as an adjunct professor of film.

Needless to say, I’m grateful for the time she extended to me.

This is the first of two posts about our conversation.

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Power Plays

Before we get into her film, Barbazul, I ask Amy how she selects the topics for her productions.

With a chuckle, she tells me it’s whatever she finds interesting.

sirwinakuy0012-300x389Sirwinakuy, the first film I directed, was a story I started writing about fourteen years ago. I was living in Paris at the time and kind of pieced it together from a bunch of different people and relationships I observed.”

The film centers on a young woman (Veronica Paintoux) who develops a dominant/submissive relationship with an older man (Jac Avila).

Amy imagines her stories “as a Jungian dream in the sense that I am all of the characters,” she explains, much like children who “play act and envision different kinds of scenarios.” In other words, role-playing teaches children about relationships.

Drama serves the same purpose.

She is “intrigued” by certain types of human interaction, especially “power play relationships, dispossession versus repossession, things like that,” Amy says.

These scenarios are the underpinnings of her film adaptations of literature and her original screenplays.

Of course, power play interactions are the traditional erotic foundation BDSM relationships and I suggest that because her films have a BDSM component, they can be defined as erotic horror. Amy is not so sure.

“A lot of people tend to emphasize the erotic element in my films but they are not about that,” she insists. “They’re a visual metaphor for power play and vulnerability because I feel like erotic horror is privileging the erotic over anything else.”

To support her assertion, Amy notes that Sirwinakuy can be interpreted different ways. It may be seen as “a romantic comedy or a drama” and also as “psychological horror.”

Terrifying and Sexy

I bring up Ollala and Barbazul.

“They are both about power play relationships, the pain of individuality in the face of society” though each film explores the theme “in different ways,” she mentions.

barbazulposter2-300x389That takes us to Barbazul which Amy adapted from the French fairy tale, “Bluebeard.”

There’s a certain shift in perspective in the film that I wanted play around with,” Amy begins. “I wanted it to be a mirror for the audience to project their emotions onto Barbazul (Bluebeard) and think, ‘This guy’s a psychopath,” while simultaneously empathizing with him.

“I want people [to] take stock of how they actually react to situations of rejection [and] the idea of putting one’s own needs before that of the relationship,” Amy explains.

She recalls reading Charles Perrault’s story as a child.

“It was terribly exciting and terrifying and sexy so I wanted that to come out in the film as well.”

The Extra Dress

Looking further into Barbazul, I’m wondering why Amy kills off Soledad (played by Mila Joya), who was destined to become Bluebeard’s next wife.

“She needed to die,” Amy says, and that happens at “the hands of the sister, assisted by Barbazul.”

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The story examines the rivalry that can emerge between women, in this case, “mother and daughter when the daughter reaches maturity. They become rivals in a sense that puts a strain on the relationship.” Amy explains.

In the Barbazul adaptation, Soledad helps to raise her sister, in effect taking the place of their mother. Conflicts develop and the psychological aspect of the story steps forward. Soledad’s sister pushes Soledad aside and wins the affections of Bluebeard.

Amy elaborates.

barbazul00100316“The sister takes Soledad into herself by replacing her. She sees Soledad as someone who will never actually become something. Her [Soledad’s] concerns are not for the self, they’re for making decisions based on the expectations and obligations of society that are more than what she wants. Who knows what she wants in life.”

In Perrault’s original narrative, Bluebeard accumulates the carcasses of his dead wives in a secret, locked room. Bodies didn’t work for Amy’s cinematic tastes. Instead she settled on the symbolic representation of dresses hung on a rack in Barbazul’s plantation office.

“I’m terribly logic based so I figured a room of bloody corpses would be absolutely disgusting, smelly, and I felt like Walter [Barbazul’s fastidious butler] would have a problem with it.”

Also, there is Barbzul himself, who is a very precise guy.

Amy continues. “I felt like he would have a representation of [his murdered wives] because Barbazul was someone who took care of things. When he put them [the bodies] in the ground he was burying [his] frustration.”

Amy mentions that her modern interpretation of the story focuses on the psychological, something Perrault intuitively understood in an age that predated the social sciences.

“Yes, he would keep a trophy like many psychopaths do. Barbazul is someone who wants to suppress that frustration and rejection and move on with a clean slate every time with a new woman.”

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I comment that in the office there is an extra dress, guessing it is the one that is set aside for Soledad.

Amy liked that explanation, but the truth is much more revealing.

“The real story is there was another actress” slated to play one of the Barbazul’s women, she says.

Unfortunately the performer had “diva” problems.

“She was quite abusive. She threw a tirade at me. I tried a couple of times to talk to her about it, calmly.” Amy remembers, but things didn’t work out.  The frustrated director had no alternative but to write the girl out of the film.

The Erotic Writer

So, one actress was dropped while another role, that of Jane, one of Barbazul’s victims, remained vacant.

Amy decided to put herself in front of the camera this time because she didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone to take on Jane’s part.

Here’s the story accentuated with an amusing prelim.

“She [Jane] is supposed to be this sexually aggressive character. I wanted to have [her] smoke.”

Amy aesthetically appreciates the iconoclastic French new wave films of decades ago and the “clouds of smoke” that permeate them. From her filmmaker’s perspective smoking comes across as “pretty and sexy” when the lighting sets the tone of the scene. It fit Jane’s mood perfectly.

“I’m giving signifiers to her subtext because she writes erotic literature.”

That makes sense, but Amy had a problem.

“I don’t smoke so it was awful,” she laughs. “It made me sick but it looks really cool on film.”

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Understandable, but what persuaded Amy to be her own last-minute recruit wasn’t the cigarettes, or more precisely, cigarillos.

“I never actually intended to play that character. I didn’t want to.” Her intention was only to direct the film, but the best laid plans can get gummed up.

There was a problem. The script required Jane’s corpse to be buried.

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“I realized it would be very difficult to ask someone to be out in the cold, naked, rolled up into plastic like a burrito. I don’t feel confident asking someone to do that. I did kind of shop around a little bit but none of the actresses I knew were willing to do it.”

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That’s understandable, so director became actress.

“When I was rolled up in plastic, I couldn’t actually breathe. I realized that it was a really a good idea not to ask someone to do this because I would be sued.”

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Her efforts paid off and Barbazul became a notable and beautifully shot film.

Next we’ll ask Amy about the nudity and the use of color in her productions.

*          *          *

For the Barbazul trailer from Vermeerworks, the distributor of the film, click here.

For the YouTube trailer, click here.

 

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

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

SPOILER ALERT! The final resolution of Justine is right around the corner!

The installments of this five-part review are posted as a package but designed as stand alone essays, so you may read the ones you like and forgo the others.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama/Decadent Films.

*          *          *

Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema combines erotic horror and soft core S&M action within a framework of classical literature, a rare adventure in movie making.

Dead But Dreaming’s vampire legends, Ollala (based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s vampire tale by the same name), and Barbazul (Charles Perrault’s “Bluebeard”) represent avant-garde indie film that offers timeless story telling infused with adult themes.

And don’t forget, Amy Hesketh’s performance art lures everyone into her cauldron of sexuality and pain that marks (pun intended) the excitement of these productions.

Amy’s talent is on full display again in Justine. Undoubtedly her interpretation of the suffering feminine is hard on her body and eventually she will decide enough is enough. So if watching Amy on-screen is your pleasure, be sure to get a copy of this film.

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Having said that, Justine, sparks conversation in another way.

Following the footprint of the films mentioned above, Justine carries a political message steeped in images that are literary and mythological.

Let’s take a brief look at a few examples.

Three

First, the movie’s most dynamic image, the restrained and punished woman, surpasses other Jac Avila creations with the possible exception of Maleficarum.

Amy Hesketh, Mila Joya, and Beatriz Riveria are easy on the eyes and offer the visual delights of a good whipping that S&M aficionados appreciate.

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But that’s for just for starters. There’s more.

Take the archetypal number three, the staple of myth and legend which accounts for its dominance in the Bible. Jac Avila follows Sade’s lead in exploring it.

The novel mentions twenty-one victims (three sevens) consumed in the prison fire. Adulthood is also age twenty-one, a hint that when Justine escapes from prison, she is old enough to take responsibility for her decision-making, or more specifically her inaction, in a theme that runs through Sade’s work.

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Also, the dungeon candle stands have combinations of threes and sixes cleverly placed among the torture devices.

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The Circle

Jac Avila focuses on three sacrificial victims to create his religious motif.

Each girl is bound to the wheel reminding the viewer that while a patriarchal God may oversee the world, women are the source of a never-ending circle of virtue and vice–reproduction on one hand and sexual temptation on the other–that drives the human condition.

Thus we have the wheel’s most important message. Civilization’s male-dominated hierarchies insist that female sexuality is not to be trusted, so women must be confined and chained rather than celebrated.

By the way, trust makes its appearance at the end of the film in an ironic twist. But you’ll have to watch the movie to see it.

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Speaking of sacrifices, after Rosalie’s dungeon crucifixion her stigmata wounds are treated by Omphale and Justine in a scene reminiscent of the three women at Calvary (Golgotha) recounted in the gospels.

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Then, of course, there’s Jac’s version of the three crosses we’ll see later.

The Sacred Feminine or Defiant Feminist?

White is the color of purity and the girls wear white loincloths depicting the partially clad martyr linked to the Medieval crucifixion image. Only Justine is nude.

In this modern interpretation of Sade’s novel, she is both virtue and vice, honoring the complete woman and validating her defiance of patriarchy despite her humiliation.

In other words, Justine is totally exposed, the literary “everywoman.”

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When the abused girls retreat to their bed, the configuration of their bodies is a reminder of the Holy Trinity with the God/Daughter shift illustrated by Rosalie’s suffering.

The importance of the sacred feminine in Church lore cannot be easily dismissed.

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However, this scene is part of a series of images that begins in the dungeon with the chained and collared Justine grabbing vainly for Rodin in a fit of vengeance. She is defiant and frustrated, the angry feminine, or in modern terms, feminist.

12342441_10153165674282882_7911671529364754032_nThen we see the Trinity motif just mentioned.

At first the girls are looking away from each other, individualized in their agony, emphasizing the misery and abandonment that is part of the human condition.

But they eventually join hands in spirit as well as in truth, an affirmation that the sacred feminine will prevail.

Imagistically, they form their own wheel with their overlapping hands on Justine’s hip as the hub.

Leonardo’s Perfection

300px-da_vinci_vitruve_luc_viatourIt’s worth mentioning that Jac Avila’s woman on the wheel is a vague reference to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man,” perhaps suggested by the filmmaker more unconsciously than deliberately.

Simply put, each girl represents the Renaissance thinker’s harmonic blend of art and science that ultimately spawned the Age of Enlightenment and, ironically, the Marquis de Sade.

In this film the female image emerges perfect in form while tormented with pain, as Justine reminds us with her harsh condemnation of Biblical tenets.

We can conclude then that Justine is a full-fledged challenge to the Church and its intrusion into the pre-theological State of Nature that Sade celebrates. Jac Avila has given us pause to reconsider Sade’s argument.

We have a broader question, of course, that is too much to consider here. Is the perfect female form and its corresponding consciousness a creation of Nature or God? Or both?

Cutting Across Time

The confrontation between female suffering and empowerment, the heart of this story, cuts across time.

Here are some of the examples.

In I Only See Darkness: Part Two of this review, we see twenty-first century vehicle tires abandoned on the side of the road, a comment on Justine’s situation.

Then there is Rodin’s modern bottle of beer in the dungeon scene, though bottled beer was known in Sade’s day. As the film comes to its denouement, Rodin wears sunglasses not available in the eighteenth century. Combine those images with a wife-beater shirt and the macho persona of the alpha male (God?) steps into view.

12265552_522310101276893_6619100802816208411_oAlso, we have the brass bed (a Victorian invention) that post-dates Sade. But it is appropriate here because the Victorians muted female sexuality, giving rise to Freudian theory on hysteria, repression, and sexual anxiety.

The costumes are eclectic. In the dungeon scenes, for instance, Rodin sports the aforementioned wife-beater shirt, a Hollywood staple reaching back to the 1930s.

Incidentally, Amy Hesketh cobbled the wardrobe together for the film . . . not a simple task.

Now we know why Jac Avila breaks the fourth wall repeatedly. His message transcends the here and now and goes well beyond the story at hand. What better way to reinforce the narrative’s timelessness than addressing the viewer directly, cutting through the limitations configured by the camera’s lens.

*          *          *

So, that’s a quick run-down of some of the symbolism incorporated into the Justine narrative.

We’re set now to venture into our last installment for the dramatic conclusion Jac Avila has crafted for this version of the Sadean saga. He deviates from Sade somewhat but retains the flavor of the novel to its bitter end.

A reminder. If you don’t want to know how everything turns out, skip the next post!

*          *          *

12313702_10207283807987314_7432081521215658282_nFor the curious, Amy often crafts the torture instruments including racks, whips, and the like that appear in all Pachamama/Decadent Films.

Getting a feel for the whips is something BDSMers would understand.

By the way, in making Justine, testing the wheel was vitally important, as you might expect.

*          *          *

Amy Hesketh can be reached on Facebook and followed on twitter. Jac Avila is also on twitter.

 

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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.

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Before we get the final part of this review, here is an interesting note about making Barbazul.

In a recent correspondence, Jac Avila told me, “The hacienda in Barbazul is in a valley, near La Paz, known as Chivisivi. It is still to this day used to make wine and vinegar. It’s an active vineyard. For Amy it was very important that the place gave some of the mood of the characters. In Barbazul each woman has a different color in the decor of the place and the way they dress and so on. Barbazul is very particular about that.”

To get an impression of the plantation’s magnificence, here it is.

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

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