Tag Archives: Jac Avila

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?

 *          *          *

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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Le Marquis, Part Four: Most Corrupt

by Rich Moreland, April 2017

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

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

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The Right to Torture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divine Maybe?

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

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

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

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

A little wine to go with the vinegar, perhaps?

Sacred Feminine?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tourist

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

Here it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*          *          *

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

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Le Marquis, Part Three: Insights from the Producers

by Rich Moreland, April 2017

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

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

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

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films.

*          *          *

Personal Catharsis

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

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

Amy mentions death as an example.

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

Intimacy

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

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

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

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

Do they have real affection for each other? Perhaps.

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

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

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

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

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

An Intimate Position

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

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

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

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

We see it in Ollala, for example.

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

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

A Violent Act

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

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

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

The emotional intensity is breathtaking.

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

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

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

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

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

Frozen in Time

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

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

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

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

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

To “Feel” Something

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

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

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

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

Le Marquis reaches for that difficult goal.

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

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

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Le Marquis, Part Two: Wild with Lust

by Rich Moreland, April 2017

In this post we find out about the gypsy’s significance in Le Marquis de la Croix.

Pachamama productions are always more than they seem at first glance and Le Marquis is no exception.

All photos are courtesy of the company.

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Wretched Creature

Le Marquis de la Croix is the dance of the gypsy, suspended and exposed to the nightmarish whims of her aristocratic master. Her time with him is short. Her trials encompass less than a twenty-four hour period.

After he purchases Zynga, the marquis uses her sexually then shackles her to a pillar for a good flogging.

The scene rivals similar punishments from Dead But Dreaming when Amy Hesketh is the Irish traveler humiliated at the whipping post and Justine where Amy is spread-eagle between pillars for a public lashing.

In this reviewer’s opinion those scenes is are the finest Pachamama Films has produced, but Zynga’s scourging–back and front with her dress torn away in the same manner as the Irish traveler and Justine–ranks among the best.

To clarify the above statement, Pachamama Films presents female whippings under varying circumstances and settings.

In the case of Le Marquis, flogging is torture for its own sake as we see in the dungeons of Justine rather than an interrogation technique in Maleficarum (below) or enforcing discipline shown in Ollala .

Curiously after the marquis is finished and the gypsy is properly marked, a chanting and singing crowd is heard outside his cell. The aristocrat comments that Zynga, whom he calls a “wretched creature,” may not have committed any crime. Nevertheless, he treats her abysmally in a highly sexualized ritual spurred by his sadism.

“Zynga excited me violently,” he says as he abandons her manacled to the pillar. Her suffering makes him “rigid,” he admits, before calming his “ardor and desires” with an act of self-pleasure.

The Spaniard

Wielding his whip on the fair body of the gypsy causes the marquis to wax poetic. “What beauty. These are roses strewn upon the lilies by the Grace’s very hands.”

What’s going on here? Is this a divine moment?

Early on when Zynga is first sold to the aristocrat, he tempts her with an apple in a reversal of the Genesis story when Eve seduces Adam. But that’s not quite as simple as it sounds because Zynga is, in fact, the marquis’ temptation and a reminder of the emotional pain he endures.

In other words, both have a hunger for freedom and the aristocrat in the end will facilitate hers.

When she is kneeling in front of him in total subservience, the marquis demands to know what she will do for the fruit. The gypsy offers to sing, the ancient’s oft-used reference to oral sex. Don’t forget the Romans noted that the intoxicating Cleopatra (not known for her beauty, by the way) had an enchanting voice, a reference to certain performing skills respectable Roman women found onerous.

Addressing Zynga as “a Spaniard,” the nobleman demands she “come get it.” Her shackled hands and feet require her to edge toward him using only her knees.

This sets up the film’s lone sex act (she is “fed” another way) and reveals the political theme of this brilliantly crafted script.

Stoicism and Silence

That Zynga is a gypsy is not incidental. Known as the Romani, nomadic gypsies were often expelled from the regions of Europe they entered during medieval times.

In 18th century Spain and Southern France, the historical period of Le Marquis, they were frequently arrested and imprisoned. Though stereotypically known for their passion, temper, and disrespect for the law, some gypsies eventually became Christians.

Thus, this man of the upper classes has tacit permission to torture Zynga who was sentenced to the guillotine anyway.

Important, however, is her stoicism. As we progress through the story, she may scream from physical pain, but she never weeps while enduring it. Zynga reflects her people, unwanted and familiar with the lowest of societal conditions that requires them to live by their wits.

There’s one more significant point. Founded in Greece during the Age of Alexander, the stoic philosophy precedes Christianity and contributes to it. If Zynga is a Christian, the marquis’ love/hate relationship with her is understandable because he has a personal disgust for the Church.

In fact, the aristocrat acknowledges Zynga’s stoicism. When she is crucified he observes, “Only she knows the intensity of her pain, but she does not speak of her agonies.”

Oh yes, it is curious that gypsies in Celtic England were known as, you guessed it, Irish Travelers. Their pre-Christian existence doves tails with the vampire legends that pervade Pachamama’s Dead But Dreaming, keeping the nomadic gypsy alive pre- and post-Christianity and allowing the doomed Romani in Le Marquis to represent a foil to the faith.

Back to the Roses

Allowing his eyes to feast on Zynga’s naked and welted image, the marquis says, “I dwell upon the picture. I’m fired by it. I approach her lips but dare to kiss them, but I do not.”

In fact he can’t because of what she represents: the wrong done to him by his imprisonment. The gypsy and the nobleman are reflections of each other, share a similar fate, and are separated only by that which gives the him the singular right to torture: social class.

It’s a power play that is as old as history itself.

He asks, “Do you like this? Do you want to do it again? Are you going to do better?”

Is he talking about her submission and the pain he inflicts or her eagerness to sexually accommodate him . . . or both? We don’t know but the gypsy has an answer.

She nods slightly in hopes of upping her chances of survival. The whipping commences again.

Christians regard lilies as purity, the symbol of the Virgin Mary. Red roses, often attached to romantic love, also represent the blood of those martyred by their faith. As he ratchets up her pain, the nobleman sips the red wine associated with Christian passion while denying it to Zynga in a mockery of her plight.

When he relents and puts the glass to her lips, is she drinking the blood that drains from her slowly as the narrative weaves its way to its conclusion?

Weaving his sadistic desires into his scorn for the Church and his social class attitude toward gypsies, the marquis shapes the film into a chilling drama haunted by a woeful, plaintiff musical score whenever the torture is reignited.

The Dangling Rope

The gypsy remains a prisoner manacled to the pillar overnight, just as the Irish traveler in Dead lingers in her predicament. The images of slow suffering arouse an exciting admiration of the whip.

Zynga is only beginning her tribulations, of course, and a central image reappears often: the rope that lords over the Marquis’ cell.

He writes that the accused criminal finds herself in his “cavern” and “from a traverse beam dangled a rope in the center of this room of torture and which as very soon you will see, was there for no other purpose than to facilitate my dreadful and costly expeditions.”

It will accommodate the gypsy’s torments. She is caned while in strappado and later in classic BDSM style is punished again with body exposed and arms over head.

Almost in celebration, her presence makes him “wild with lust,” the marquis remarks casually, and another whipping begins.

In the next post, we’ll get some input from the filmmakers and take a look at the rack scene.

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Le Marquis, Part One: The Museum

by Rich Moreland, April 2017

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

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

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

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films.

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The Story

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

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

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

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

Strikingly Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back Streets

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gypsy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You can follow Jac Avila:

 

And Amy Hesketh:

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Amy Hesketh, Part 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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