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Amy Hesketh, Part Two: Sex and Art

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

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

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

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Yes and No

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

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

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

However, the screenplay had a determining factor built in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Storyboard

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

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

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

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

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

The payoff is a worth it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbit Hole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Eroticism of Torture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To purchase Amy’s films, check out Vermeerworks.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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You Were Perfect

Barbazul now moves into its flashback stage. Soledad reads through the journal and meets each of Bluebeard’s previous women.

The first is Annabelle (Veronica Paintoux). She’s doing a fashion shoot for the slave-driving Paul. Soledad is also present, assisting the cameraman but hardly to his satisfaction.  He criticizes her as a “nappy-haired cunt.”

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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.

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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.

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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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