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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 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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Olalla, Part Five: The Portrait

by Rich Moreland, July 2016

This post wraps up a few details about Olalla as I’ve interpreted the film.

Here we consider the portrait’s importance in the story and take a look at some of the cinematography.

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Gothic

OlallaPoster800The central image in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Olalla” is the portrait in the English soldier’s bedroom. It presents “a woman, still young” whose body is “very slim and strong.” Yet, she is “marred by a cruel, sullen and sensual expression,” the Englishman notes, and he fears the lady may still exist “in the body of some descendant.” Nevertheless, he is drawn to her.

In the film, the portrait travels across time. It is in Roberto’s bedroom in the 1885 setting and then in Nathan’s in the modern era.

At one point, Nathan, who is the final incarnation of the house guest, gives credence to the Englishman’s apprehension. He gazes at the woman’s face and it fades into Olalla’s, a bit of blood dripping from her mouth.

Like the English soldier who is “haunted by cries of pain” in the night, Nathan hears Olalla’s whimpering coming from her room. Could it be that Felipe is his sister’s abuser in Stevenson’s mind? Amy Hesketh lets us in on that secret in her updated version of the story.

Later, Nathan wants to photograph Olalla using his tablet. She resists at first, but gives in, and the photo reveals much.

First, her image is there, questioning the traditional (Bram Stoker) interpretation that vampires aren’t reflected in mirrors. Then, there is Olalla’s comment that she appears pale, perhaps denying any self-recognition that she is vampiric. Nathan counters her remark with the word “gothic,” an interesting concession to Stoker.

That strikes a chord with Olalla because she responds with one the film’s major themes. “I want to look normal.”

A test for angle and shadowing.

A test for angle and shadowing.

The portrait and the photo solidify the Olalla story. Both have the same shadowing that mutes the left side of the face. Olalla, like her ancestor, is crushed by a past she cannot escape. It’s the darkness that has engulfed the family for generations.

Coincidentally, there is a portrait of Christ immediately to the left (from the camera’s perspective) of Olalla’s ancestor. This foretells a cinematic ending that magnifies the conflict between suffering for sin and yielding to evil.

The images are together

The images: the soldier, Christ, and the ancestor

To bring all the images together, there is one more picture in the room, a soldier taken in profile. It’s a tribute to Stevenson’s original English officer, though the photo is of Victorian origin that fits with Amy’s interpretation of the Olalla back story.

As an aside, there is one more observation concerning Nathan’s tablet. Like the flat screen TV in the apartment Olalla shared with her boyfriend, the tablet is modern technology. However, the family hacienda lives in another era as we’ve seen. Only when someone from the outside, like the boyfriend or Nathan, appears in the narrative does Olalla experience what she desires, the freedom to break away and be “normal.”

Then, in a never ending cycle of entrapment, she kills off her chances of escape with deadly fits of blood lust.

Feeling Alive?

Throughout the film, the camera captures important details that help us interpret the story. Here are a few examples.

Olalla is frequently barefoot, understandable since uncle Felipe derides her as a “stupid little girl” confined her to adolescence. In the family’s presence, Olalla’s body language assumes the awkward posture of a child. Her hands and her feet are restive in an atmosphere that clearly makes her uneasy . . . as children often are among adults.

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In the living room, a glass curio cabinet is filled with bric-a-brac, much of it religious, such as the porcelain Madonna and angels.

Can we assume the family’s blood-thirst clashes with a faith they’ve long put on the shelf? Or, are the religious relics merely socially acceptable trinkets for display, not to be taken seriously? On the other hand, perhaps their blood cocktails are more sinister . . . a perversion of the blood of Christ celebrated in church ritual.

Taking this into consideration, we are inclined to believe that the crucifixion of Olalla’s mother, who committed no crime, was an act of redemption that gives the family a pass to be their wonderfully deviant selves.

Olalla and Nathan talk among the images within the cabinet.

Olalla and Nathan talk among the images within the cabinet.

Nathan and Olalla are united in one respect. He tells her that he has seen so much death that he can’t “feel alive anymore.”

The reality of that statement is ready to be tested by the family who is itself a reflection of his thought. Soon the party will begin and a table neatly organized with napkins, glasses, and the like is prepared. The arrangement is a set-up for a violent end: a pistol is centrally positioned among the dinner ware.

Nathan’s arrival is eagerly anticipated as one would the daily farmers’ market where fresh fruits and vegetables tempt the taste buds.

A Few Words about the Production

Olalla is a finely crafted film. Numerous close-ups connect the viewer with the characters. Additionally, Amy favors overhead and high angle shots, putting the family in a metaphorical fishbowl that invites us to watch their goings on with a mixture of macabre humor and pathos. Cinematographer Miguel Inti Canedo’s work is impressive.

A superb example is Olalla’s first appearance in the long hallway. It’s shot in single point perspective from high above with her a small figure at the opposite end moving toward the camera.

Later when Uncle Felipe overpowers Olalla, he binds her in a crucifix posture that references her mother’s death. The overhead shot tells us she may someday suffer a more grisly fate than a few beatings to reestablish her submission.

OlallaVidCaps00194209

Nearing the end of the film, another overhead shot shifts the focus to the pitchfork crowd in the 1880s. Notice that the whip marks on Olalla’s mother replicate the strokes inflicted on a tied down Olalla. Mother and daughter are forever united.

Oh yes, don’t forget that the Englishman’s final memory of Olalla in Stevenson’s story. He sees Olalla “leaning on the crucifix;” Amy puts her put on it.

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Olalla is a horror film, of course, but one that does not rely on special effects. Nonetheless, there is one spectacular moment when Jac Avila’s editing steps forward to show the fires that consume Olalla.

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A note for anyone who doubts the versatility of indie film projects. Everyone does everything. Actors do make-up, take on the jobs of PA’s, build sets, capture the film grabs (production stills) and operate technical equipment when needed.

A director has many jobs!

A director has many jobs . . .

It’s the closest thing we have to neighborhood theater, a truly refreshing experience.

Which includes set construction . . .

Which includes set construction . . .

And speaking of performers, Jac Avila’s and Amy Hesketh’s Pachamama/Decadent Films is also an acting troupe. Revisit the second post in this series for the names of the talented people who do their very best to make every film a first-class production.

A celebratory moment!

A celebratory moment!

The Budget

Finally, indie productions must deal with the bane of budgetary restrictions. Considering that, Olalla is exceptional. Though the outdoor sequences are not elaborate, they more than adequate to supplement the story.

10417775_10153193597846840_8578639109230206091_nOn the other hand, the indoor shots of the family hacienda in modern times are the real driving force of the film.

By comparison, the 1800s flashback scenes emphasize the family’s once wealthy position that Stevenson establishes in the original story.

Their home is well-appointed.

Also, the church that becomes Olalla’s last refuge is visually impressive. Both are awash in color.

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Because I mainly review films in an industry that operates outside mainstream Hollywood, I’m well aware that talented directors rarely have the money to bring their projects to the screen in the fashion they’d like.

Despite whatever financial hurdles they face, Amy Hesketh and Jac Avila create narratives that are intriguing interpretations of timeless stories produced with an innovative modern feel. As a team, they and their troupe deserve the highest accolades.

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There is on more post to come. It centers on Amy Hesketh’s performance in Ollala.

To learn more about Amy and Jac, visit their twitter accounts at @Amy Hesketh and @Jac Avila.

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