Tag Archives: Justine

The Passion of Isabel: Part One

by Rich Moreland, November 2017

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

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

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

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

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 The Age of Discovery promises the dawn of a new day that will challenge outdated belief systems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Body or Your Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Erotic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Victim Role Times Three

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

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

Amy in Olalla

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

Mila in Le Marquis de la Croix

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

Mila and Amy in Maleficarum

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

Bea in Justine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reflections on Sirwiñakuy

by Rich Moreland, June 2017

From the movie source IMDb about Sirwiñakuy:

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

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

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

About an hour and forty minutes later it was over.

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

Why?

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

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

My “Oh Hum”

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

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

Here’s the real reason.

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

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

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

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

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

Rewind

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

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

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

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

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

Ditch the Sound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I do.

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

Creeping Up

Sleepwalking now conquered, what’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, Miss Veronica

A word is due about the captivatingly gorgeous Veronica Paintoux.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toying with a Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . But that is only a guess.

Authentic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is not to love about her?

But remember, it’s all consensual.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the director at work:

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Le Marquis, Part Three: Insights from the Producers

by Rich Moreland, April 2017

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

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

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

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films.

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Personal Catharsis

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

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

Amy mentions death as an example.

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

Intimacy

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

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

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

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

Do they have real affection for each other? Perhaps.

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

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

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

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

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

An Intimate Position

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

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

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

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

We see it in Ollala, for example.

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

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

A Violent Act

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

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

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

The emotional intensity is breathtaking.

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

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

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

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

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

Frozen in Time

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

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

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

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

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

To “Feel” Something

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

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

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

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

Le Marquis reaches for that difficult goal.

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

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

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Le Marquis, Part 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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The Women of Justine: Part Two

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

In this second post on the interviews with Jac Avila, Mila Joya, and Beatriz Rivera, the challenges they encountered in performing in Justine are explored.

My thanks are extended to Pachamama/Decadent films for providing the many screen shots used in all of my posts on Justine.

For those interested in my review of the film, check the blog archives for December, 2016.

*           *           *

Ethics

Jac Avila faced a not-so-common hurdle in making Justine. “It’s always a challenge to direct [a film], but to act and direct at the same time makes things a lot more difficult,” he says.

But there is another concern the average viewer rarely considers: the ethical demands a director faces when shooting torture scenes.

This happened with Justine which imposed a stressful decision on Jac Avila.

“Asking the leading ladies to engage in terrible acts,” he remarks, required him to “direct the film as Rodin,” the sadist, not as his real self, that of artist and filmmaker.

The result? Ethical issues forced their way into his thinking.

“As a director and human being, you have to be very careful when they [the performers] are subjected to all kinds of evil deeds, like torture, but you can’t show that concern as an actor. In fact, you have to show that you are relishing your evil doings. That was the most difficult part for me, how to be a gentleman, a scholar, a respected director while subjecting my leading actresses to unspeakable acts and enjoy it all as Rodin.”

 

Trust and Experience

From her perspective, Beatriz Rivera had to deal with adjustments during filming that were not unexpected, but stressful nevertheless.

“The most challenging [aspect] for me was to think as Omphale and not as Beatriz.

“[Being] naked takes you away from your character, especially when there are others around like the extras and crew,” Bea says. “It’s hard to be naked in front of a lot of people, so getting back to the character in those conditions was the challenging part.”

But there’s also the torture element.

“During the tortures the most difficult part was to be bound, defenceless. That was the hard part, but there was a lot of trust too, that made it easier.”

Mila Joya reflects on her experience shooting these types of movies. For those who don’t know, she is the condemned and flogged gypsy in Le Marquis de la Croix, an eternally tortured vampire in Dead But Dreaming, and the agony-ridden Maria Francisca, who along with Amy Hesketh’s Mariana, is whipped, racked, and crucified in Maleficarum.

“The whole movie is one big challenge, but for me it wasn’t that difficult because I had similar experiences like in Maleficarum. So the challenge for me was to create a different character, not similar to any other in previous movies,” Mila comments.

And, so she does. In Dead she’s the angry vampire trapped for centuries in sexual submission; in Maleficarum, Mila is a wronged and tragic figure caught in a period of Protestant/Catholic conflict. Both are much different from the doomed Rosalie of Justine, a victim of incest and sacrifice.

Speaking of crucifixions, by the way, Justine ends with a spectacular one in which Mila as Rosalie wears a crown of thorns.

 

The Closed Group

My question about how performers influence each other on-set produced three different views.

Bea offers this point. “The way others play the characters give you a cue as to how to react to them, that helps. We helped each other. For instance to be comfortable enough to ask your torturer to hit you harder with the whip, to feel it more, that helped me to play the character [of Omphale].”

Mila, a veteran of the Pachamama/Decadent Films troupe, believes “the closed group of the three of us” produced the energy to move the film forward.

“All three [roles and actresses] were very different. That had an influence in how I played my character. Not everything is in the script so there are reactions to actions and sometimes you surprise yourself with your reactions to the others. The director influenced one way, with his instructions, but as an actor he had a different influence, especially in how I had to react to him as my father and lover,” Mila asserts.

As expected, Jac lends his director/actor persona to the question.

“There’s always the influence of the others in how you perform your role and you have to be prepared [in turn] to influence [them].”

But such a forthright statement comes with a caution.

“I used the opportunity of being the dominating character to direct the actors in the ways I wanted them to perform while being painfully aware of how their reactions to my actions were causing the scene to go in a different direction than originally intended,” he admits.

“That’s always a very interesting thing to experience. How the story follows a road that was not planned at all, in an organic kind of way.”

Independent

My final thought is about independent film. Pachamama/Decadent Films is an indie company with committed, high-energy people.

What are the advantages and drawbacks to shooting an indie product?

Mila and Bea mirror each other’s thoughts in that they are of Bolivian origin and not products of the Hollywood scene.

“I can’t say anything about that. In Bolivia all movie making is independent, so I wouldn’t know. But there’s more freedom in independent cinema,” Mila predictably answers.

“Independent films use different subjects, unlike Hollywood that does a lot of the same adventures, the same romances, the same fantasies. So there’s magic in independent cinema. However, only independent films are made in Bolivia so I would not know of disadvantages.” Bea comments.

Jac proclaims that independent filming provides the freedom to shoot as he personally desires unencumbered by studio heads and the people with backing money known as producers . . . which brings up the main drawback of indie projects.

There’s never enough money, Jac says, which means “there’s a lot of compromising on the way to the end of production. Nothing is exactly how you envision it because you don’t have the cash to do what you originally wrote and conceived. You depend on what your available resources give you.”

But he hastily adds, “That, in turn, becomes an advantage, because it challenges you to be extremely creative.”

Finally, don’t forget that indie film requires everyone be on board to help with the production.

For a last word on Justine, Jac Avila reminds us once again that the story is a parody of a parody and that means filming can be a lot of fun.

Looks like Amy is hatching a plan with a little mirth of her own in mind!

*          *          *

In the next two posts we’ll talk with Amy Hesketh about her views on filmmaking, directing and her psychological take on suffering . . . not to mention the easily perceived sadomasochist elements that drive a part of her fan base.

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The Women of Justine: Part One

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

In this post, Mila Joya and Beatriz Rivera who play Rosalie and Omphale respectively in Pachamama Films’ Justine, talk about how they interpreted their characters.

Director Jac Avila, who plays the evil Rodin, also relates how he viewed his role as the dominant figure in the film.

*           *          *

Actresses in Jac Avila films endure the sadistic urgings of their tormenters, especially in movies like Maleficarum and the subject of this article, Justine. The film features a trio of alluring women: Amy Hesketh, Mila Joya and Beatriz Rivera.

“When they do get into their characters,” Jac says, “they go into them with intensity and completely. They become those characters for the time of the shooting.”

He remarks that the most intense scenes can take a physical and mental toll on the performers.

“The whippings hurt, the crucifixions are very, very uncomfortable and even painful, there’s a lot of real suffering going on. I do not think that any of them enjoy that, they put up with it for the art,” he concedes.

 

An Erotic Parody

Jac summarizes his basic premise in creating Pachamama Films’ adaptation of Justine.

“I wanted to make an erotic parody of a parody of the times of De Sade which, ultimately, are not very different from ours.”

With any adaptation, character portrayal is always in flux and may not always fit the original story, Jac points out, so “the characters will make a statement of some kind as you develop them.”

That’s important because Jac believes his version of Justine is “not so much an S/M adventure,” but “more like a misadventure with sadistic consequences.”

“There’s no horror,” he explains, “except for the natural horror” that plagues humanity.

“Justine is an erotic film, of course, especially if you are into beautiful ladies suffering torture and martyrdom,” he says. “All those beautiful bodies with very little or nothing covering them, is erotic in and of itself.”

As for the film’s theological comments, they reflect Jac’s Catholic upbringing.

“Justine’s quotes about God and women come straight from the nuns that were my teachers in grammar school. They were Sadean in the biblical sense,” he comments.

All Three Women are Weak

Let’s take a look at how Mila Joya, who plays Rosalie, and Beatriz Rivera, who plays Omphale, interpreted their roles. How did they see their characters moving the story forward?

To set us up for their responses, Jac first explains his part in the production.

“I play Rodin, an insidious character who has a lot of control over people’s lives and behaviour, particularly his daughter and his servant Omphale.”

The evil doctor’s “deranged whims” drive the film, Jac says. He is “god-like, as when god carries those attributes of power and evil” and “the “antithesis of Justine,” who narrates the tale.

Mila offers her view of her part in the film.

“Rosalie is a very interesting character because she’s the daughter of Rodin, there lies the big conflict, because of how ‘heavy’ [domineering] her father is. How she moves the story is complicated because there are moments where she loves Justine, she wants to help her but she can’t do anything. She knows she’s going to die, so she is resigned to her fate.

Mila summarizes Rosalie this way,

“I see her as very weak, the typical example of women that are oppressed mostly because of the time they live in.”

In fact, Mila’s take on Justine, Rosalie, and Omphale is straightforward.

“All three women are weak,” she insists.

Bea interprets her character Omphale as “totally submissive because she was under Rodin’s tutelage, power, for as far [back] as she can remember. She allies with him when he commands her to torture the others. She’s also a coward because she accepts all of his commands, never challenging him.”

“The fact that she’s Rodin’s accomplice already moves the story forward. She agrees to massacre the other girls but she doesn’t question him and doesn’t ask herself why she should experience the same,” Bea comments. “Why not have a life like everybody else, a normal life?”

On the other hand, Bea also sees Omphale as “evil and submissive. Submissive to Rodin and evil because she has no problems in punishing the others, she shows no regret, no pity.”

Though Rosalie’s helplessness and Omphale’s lack of insight into her own existence raise questions, De Sade avoids exploring the characters in-depth leaving the interpretation of how to play these women up to the actresses.

The results are thought provoking in a highly recommended film.

*          *          *

In our next post, we will examine how the players faced the challenges of Justine, including the torture scenes, and how the cast interacted with each other . . .

During the shoot . . .

 

While taking a break . . .

 

And in conference to make sure everyone is on the same page . . .

*          *          *

Justine is available for purchase from Vermeerworks here.

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Baroque and Gothic: Views of Justine

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

*           *          *

Martyrs Anyone?

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

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

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

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

Justine is rife with religion motifs, I mention.

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

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

Break the Wall

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

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

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

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

Her attitude toward Justine soured.

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

Not surprisingly, things then got difficult.

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

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

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

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

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

So, how to persuade Jac?

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

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

Dark Humor

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

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

How about Justine?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jac continues…

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

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

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

Who gets Directed?

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a process familiar to Jac.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*          *          *

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

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

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

 

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