Tag Archives: Martyr

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 The Age of Discovery promises the dawn of a new day that will challenge outdated belief systems.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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Jac Avila, Part Three: The Body in Pain

by Rich Moreland, August 2016

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

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

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Jac and Amy on the set of Justine

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

A Set of Values

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

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

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

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

Blood Sacrifice

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

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

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

Roman times. Mila Joya in Dead But Dreaming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He follows that thought with a quick history lesson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feminism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carmen Paintoux

Carmen Paintoux in Martyr.

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

The Guignol Again

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

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

Veronica Paintoux

Veronica Paintoux as the Lamia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Framing the Body

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

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

Mila Joya tortured in Maleficarum

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

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

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

Maleficarum's roasting scene.

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

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

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

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

That in itself is an empowering feminist statement.

Amy, Jac, and Mila.

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

 

 

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Jac Avila, Part Two: That Fantastic Thing

by Rich Moreland, August 2016

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

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Jac Avila as actor.

Jac Avila as actor.

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

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

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

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

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

The Blue Buick

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

The film premiered at Cannes in 1988.

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

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

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

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

And rewarding . . . the critics received it favorably.

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

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

Jac explains how it happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic to Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Heroines

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

Jac gives us his view, beginning with Ollala.

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

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

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

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

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What about the other films we’ve mentioned?

Jac has his thoughts.

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

bts dead 5 on our way

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll look at that next.

 

 

 

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