Tag Archives: Mila Joya

Amy Hesketh, Part One: A Jungian Dream

by Rich Moreland, March 2017

Over the last year I’ve developed an interest in the films of Amy Hesketh, an independent producer, director, and actor, whose work is gaining notice.

Until recently, finding an opportunity to talk with this artistically innovative thirty-something was elusive. Not only is Amy making movies, she is also pursuing her MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) and teaching as an adjunct professor of film.

Needless to say, I’m grateful for the time she extended to me.

This is the first of two posts about our conversation.

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Power Plays

Before we get into her film, Barbazul, I ask Amy how she selects the topics for her productions.

With a chuckle, she tells me it’s whatever she finds interesting.

sirwinakuy0012-300x389Sirwinakuy, the first film I directed, was a story I started writing about fourteen years ago. I was living in Paris at the time and kind of pieced it together from a bunch of different people and relationships I observed.”

The film centers on a young woman (Veronica Paintoux) who develops a dominant/submissive relationship with an older man (Jac Avila).

Amy imagines her stories “as a Jungian dream in the sense that I am all of the characters,” she explains, much like children who “play act and envision different kinds of scenarios.” In other words, role-playing teaches children about relationships.

Drama serves the same purpose.

She is “intrigued” by certain types of human interaction, especially “power play relationships, dispossession versus repossession, things like that,” Amy says.

These scenarios are the underpinnings of her film adaptations of literature and her original screenplays.

Of course, power play interactions are the traditional erotic foundation BDSM relationships and I suggest that because her films have a BDSM component, they can be defined as erotic horror. Amy is not so sure.

“A lot of people tend to emphasize the erotic element in my films but they are not about that,” she insists. “They’re a visual metaphor for power play and vulnerability because I feel like erotic horror is privileging the erotic over anything else.”

To support her assertion, Amy notes that Sirwinakuy can be interpreted different ways. It may be seen as “a romantic comedy or a drama” and also as “psychological horror.”

Terrifying and Sexy

I bring up Ollala and Barbazul.

“They are both about power play relationships, the pain of individuality in the face of society” though each film explores the theme “in different ways,” she mentions.

barbazulposter2-300x389That takes us to Barbazul which Amy adapted from the French fairy tale, “Bluebeard.”

There’s a certain shift in perspective in the film that I wanted play around with,” Amy begins. “I wanted it to be a mirror for the audience to project their emotions onto Barbazul (Bluebeard) and think, ‘This guy’s a psychopath,” while simultaneously empathizing with him.

“I want people [to] take stock of how they actually react to situations of rejection [and] the idea of putting one’s own needs before that of the relationship,” Amy explains.

She recalls reading Charles Perrault’s story as a child.

“It was terribly exciting and terrifying and sexy so I wanted that to come out in the film as well.”

The Extra Dress

Looking further into Barbazul, I’m wondering why Amy kills off Soledad (played by Mila Joya), who was destined to become Bluebeard’s next wife.

“She needed to die,” Amy says, and that happens at “the hands of the sister, assisted by Barbazul.”

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The story examines the rivalry that can emerge between women, in this case, “mother and daughter when the daughter reaches maturity. They become rivals in a sense that puts a strain on the relationship.” Amy explains.

In the Barbazul adaptation, Soledad helps to raise her sister, in effect taking the place of their mother. Conflicts develop and the psychological aspect of the story steps forward. Soledad’s sister pushes Soledad aside and wins the affections of Bluebeard.

Amy elaborates.

barbazul00100316“The sister takes Soledad into herself by replacing her. She sees Soledad as someone who will never actually become something. Her [Soledad’s] concerns are not for the self, they’re for making decisions based on the expectations and obligations of society that are more than what she wants. Who knows what she wants in life.”

In Perrault’s original narrative, Bluebeard accumulates the carcasses of his dead wives in a secret, locked room. Bodies didn’t work for Amy’s cinematic tastes. Instead she settled on the symbolic representation of dresses hung on a rack in Barbazul’s plantation office.

“I’m terribly logic based so I figured a room of bloody corpses would be absolutely disgusting, smelly, and I felt like Walter [Barbazul’s fastidious butler] would have a problem with it.”

Also, there is Barbzul himself, who is a very precise guy.

Amy continues. “I felt like he would have a representation of [his murdered wives] because Barbazul was someone who took care of things. When he put them [the bodies] in the ground he was burying [his] frustration.”

Amy mentions that her modern interpretation of the story focuses on the psychological, something Perrault intuitively understood in an age that predated the social sciences.

“Yes, he would keep a trophy like many psychopaths do. Barbazul is someone who wants to suppress that frustration and rejection and move on with a clean slate every time with a new woman.”

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I comment that in the office there is an extra dress, guessing it is the one that is set aside for Soledad.

Amy liked that explanation, but the truth is much more revealing.

“The real story is there was another actress” slated to play one of the Barbazul’s women, she says.

Unfortunately the performer had “diva” problems.

“She was quite abusive. She threw a tirade at me. I tried a couple of times to talk to her about it, calmly.” Amy remembers, but things didn’t work out.  The frustrated director had no alternative but to write the girl out of the film.

The Erotic Writer

So, one actress was dropped while another role, that of Jane, one of Barbazul’s victims, remained vacant.

Amy decided to put herself in front of the camera this time because she didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone to take on Jane’s part.

Here’s the story accentuated with an amusing prelim.

“She [Jane] is supposed to be this sexually aggressive character. I wanted to have [her] smoke.”

Amy aesthetically appreciates the iconoclastic French new wave films of decades ago and the “clouds of smoke” that permeate them. From her filmmaker’s perspective smoking comes across as “pretty and sexy” when the lighting sets the tone of the scene. It fit Jane’s mood perfectly.

“I’m giving signifiers to her subtext because she writes erotic literature.”

That makes sense, but Amy had a problem.

“I don’t smoke so it was awful,” she laughs. “It made me sick but it looks really cool on film.”

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Understandable, but what persuaded Amy to be her own last-minute recruit wasn’t the cigarettes, or more precisely, cigarillos.

“I never actually intended to play that character. I didn’t want to.” Her intention was only to direct the film, but the best laid plans can get gummed up.

There was a problem. The script required Jane’s corpse to be buried.

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“I realized it would be very difficult to ask someone to be out in the cold, naked, rolled up into plastic like a burrito. I don’t feel confident asking someone to do that. I did kind of shop around a little bit but none of the actresses I knew were willing to do it.”

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That’s understandable, so director became actress.

“When I was rolled up in plastic, I couldn’t actually breathe. I realized that it was a really a good idea not to ask someone to do this because I would be sued.”

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Her efforts paid off and Barbazul became a notable and beautifully shot film.

Next we’ll ask Amy about the nudity and the use of color in her productions.

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For the Barbazul trailer from Vermeerworks, the distributor of the film, click here.

For the YouTube trailer, click here.

 

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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 . . .

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Justine is available for purchase from Vermeerworks here.

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I Only See Darkness: Jac Avila’s Justine, Part Four

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

SPOILER ALERT! The final resolution of Justine is right around the corner!

The installments of this five-part review are posted as a package but designed as stand alone essays, so you may read the ones you like and forgo the others.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama/Decadent Films.

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Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema combines erotic horror and soft core S&M action within a framework of classical literature, a rare adventure in movie making.

Dead But Dreaming’s vampire legends, Ollala (based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s vampire tale by the same name), and Barbazul (Charles Perrault’s “Bluebeard”) represent avant-garde indie film that offers timeless story telling infused with adult themes.

And don’t forget, Amy Hesketh’s performance art lures everyone into her cauldron of sexuality and pain that marks (pun intended) the excitement of these productions.

Amy’s talent is on full display again in Justine. Undoubtedly her interpretation of the suffering feminine is hard on her body and eventually she will decide enough is enough. So if watching Amy on-screen is your pleasure, be sure to get a copy of this film.

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Having said that, Justine, sparks conversation in another way.

Following the footprint of the films mentioned above, Justine carries a political message steeped in images that are literary and mythological.

Let’s take a brief look at a few examples.

Three

First, the movie’s most dynamic image, the restrained and punished woman, surpasses other Jac Avila creations with the possible exception of Maleficarum.

Amy Hesketh, Mila Joya, and Beatriz Riveria are easy on the eyes and offer the visual delights of a good whipping that S&M aficionados appreciate.

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But that’s for just for starters. There’s more.

Take the archetypal number three, the staple of myth and legend which accounts for its dominance in the Bible. Jac Avila follows Sade’s lead in exploring it.

The novel mentions twenty-one victims (three sevens) consumed in the prison fire. Adulthood is also age twenty-one, a hint that when Justine escapes from prison, she is old enough to take responsibility for her decision-making, or more specifically her inaction, in a theme that runs through Sade’s work.

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Also, the dungeon candle stands have combinations of threes and sixes cleverly placed among the torture devices.

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The Circle

Jac Avila focuses on three sacrificial victims to create his religious motif.

Each girl is bound to the wheel reminding the viewer that while a patriarchal God may oversee the world, women are the source of a never-ending circle of virtue and vice–reproduction on one hand and sexual temptation on the other–that drives the human condition.

Thus we have the wheel’s most important message. Civilization’s male-dominated hierarchies insist that female sexuality is not to be trusted, so women must be confined and chained rather than celebrated.

By the way, trust makes its appearance at the end of the film in an ironic twist. But you’ll have to watch the movie to see it.

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Speaking of sacrifices, after Rosalie’s dungeon crucifixion her stigmata wounds are treated by Omphale and Justine in a scene reminiscent of the three women at Calvary (Golgotha) recounted in the gospels.

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Then, of course, there’s Jac’s version of the three crosses we’ll see later.

The Sacred Feminine or Defiant Feminist?

White is the color of purity and the girls wear white loincloths depicting the partially clad martyr linked to the Medieval crucifixion image. Only Justine is nude.

In this modern interpretation of Sade’s novel, she is both virtue and vice, honoring the complete woman and validating her defiance of patriarchy despite her humiliation.

In other words, Justine is totally exposed, the literary “everywoman.”

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When the abused girls retreat to their bed, the configuration of their bodies is a reminder of the Holy Trinity with the God/Daughter shift illustrated by Rosalie’s suffering.

The importance of the sacred feminine in Church lore cannot be easily dismissed.

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However, this scene is part of a series of images that begins in the dungeon with the chained and collared Justine grabbing vainly for Rodin in a fit of vengeance. She is defiant and frustrated, the angry feminine, or in modern terms, feminist.

12342441_10153165674282882_7911671529364754032_nThen we see the Trinity motif just mentioned.

At first the girls are looking away from each other, individualized in their agony, emphasizing the misery and abandonment that is part of the human condition.

But they eventually join hands in spirit as well as in truth, an affirmation that the sacred feminine will prevail.

Imagistically, they form their own wheel with their overlapping hands on Justine’s hip as the hub.

Leonardo’s Perfection

300px-da_vinci_vitruve_luc_viatourIt’s worth mentioning that Jac Avila’s woman on the wheel is a vague reference to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man,” perhaps suggested by the filmmaker more unconsciously than deliberately.

Simply put, each girl represents the Renaissance thinker’s harmonic blend of art and science that ultimately spawned the Age of Enlightenment and, ironically, the Marquis de Sade.

In this film the female image emerges perfect in form while tormented with pain, as Justine reminds us with her harsh condemnation of Biblical tenets.

We can conclude then that Justine is a full-fledged challenge to the Church and its intrusion into the pre-theological State of Nature that Sade celebrates. Jac Avila has given us pause to reconsider Sade’s argument.

We have a broader question, of course, that is too much to consider here. Is the perfect female form and its corresponding consciousness a creation of Nature or God? Or both?

Cutting Across Time

The confrontation between female suffering and empowerment, the heart of this story, cuts across time.

Here are some of the examples.

In I Only See Darkness: Part Two of this review, we see twenty-first century vehicle tires abandoned on the side of the road, a comment on Justine’s situation.

Then there is Rodin’s modern bottle of beer in the dungeon scene, though bottled beer was known in Sade’s day. As the film comes to its denouement, Rodin wears sunglasses not available in the eighteenth century. Combine those images with a wife-beater shirt and the macho persona of the alpha male (God?) steps into view.

12265552_522310101276893_6619100802816208411_oAlso, we have the brass bed (a Victorian invention) that post-dates Sade. But it is appropriate here because the Victorians muted female sexuality, giving rise to Freudian theory on hysteria, repression, and sexual anxiety.

The costumes are eclectic. In the dungeon scenes, for instance, Rodin sports the aforementioned wife-beater shirt, a Hollywood staple reaching back to the 1930s.

Incidentally, Amy Hesketh cobbled the wardrobe together for the film . . . not a simple task.

Now we know why Jac Avila breaks the fourth wall repeatedly. His message transcends the here and now and goes well beyond the story at hand. What better way to reinforce the narrative’s timelessness than addressing the viewer directly, cutting through the limitations configured by the camera’s lens.

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So, that’s a quick run-down of some of the symbolism incorporated into the Justine narrative.

We’re set now to venture into our last installment for the dramatic conclusion Jac Avila has crafted for this version of the Sadean saga. He deviates from Sade somewhat but retains the flavor of the novel to its bitter end.

A reminder. If you don’t want to know how everything turns out, skip the next post!

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12313702_10207283807987314_7432081521215658282_nFor the curious, Amy often crafts the torture instruments including racks, whips, and the like that appear in all Pachamama/Decadent Films.

Getting a feel for the whips is something BDSMers would understand.

By the way, in making Justine, testing the wheel was vitally important, as you might expect.

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Amy Hesketh can be reached on Facebook and followed on twitter. Jac Avila is also on twitter.

 

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I Only See Darkness: Jac Avila’s Justine, Part One

by Rich Moreland, December 2016

Now that we’ve discussed Justine, the novel, and looked at what Jac Avila has borrowed for his version of the story, we’re ready to analyze the film.

SPOILER ALERT! The ending of Justine is included in this five-part review.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema. Performer names are inserted where appropriate.

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In a nod to the Marquis de Sade, Jac Avila’s cinematic version of Justine tells the story in flashback mode and sticks closely to the novel early on.

justineposterv04oficial-510x775However, the opening scene departs from Sade and establishes that this film will forge its own path in ways that reveal Justine dabbling in the libertine philosophy she supposedly abhors.

This is not to say Justine abandons her virtue, but the bottom line in this film is about defiance and empowerment that, contradictory to Sade, requires a woman of strength who endures her fate.

Jac Avila puts the abused lass on that trajectory.

 

Public Humiliation

Justine (Amy Hesketh)  is brought into the town square for a public scourging. It’s announced she’s charged with prostitution and theft and will spend a night in the pillory before being sent off to a “hard labor” fate.

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Prostitution? Sade mentions nothing of that. What’s more, there is no public humiliation at the whipping post in his novel.

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The officer in charge (Gonzolo Konka) isn’t finished because the crimes of murder and arson are also part of the charges. Justine escaped from prison with the gang leader Dubois (Gina Alcon) during a fire which our heroine supposedly set.

Twenty-one people died and later Justine is blamed for a second murder, that of Madame de Bressac.

So the unfortunate girl is doomed.

The flogging begins, the crowd counts the strokes, and Amy Hesketh initiates this provocative film in a fashion only she can orchestrate. It’s a superb scene and another cinematic triumph for an actress/director whose performance art we’ve come to take for granted.

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Notice the crucifixion position of Justine as a criminal. That’s important because this film has a religious undercurrent that challenges the Church.

By the way, after receiving the thirty-ninth lash, Justine faints and has to be revived. Keep in mind the number thirty-nine, it is significant in understanding the film and will be mentioned later.

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The Medieval Church

That leads us to the prostitution charge. Why is it there?

It’s not part of Sade’s story, but its inclusion here makes sense if we remember that Sade is an atheist and condemns the Catholic Church as the charlatan of illusionary constructs. (See Justine, Part One: The Novel).

On the other hand, Jac Avila’s cinematic version of Justine does not abandon Christian ideology, choosing instead to confront it particularly over the Church’s attitude toward women.

Is the virtuous Justine turned into a modern version of Mary Magdalene, the supposed woman of the evening, to argue this point?

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If so, the flogging scene with the priest standing by tells us two things that set the tone for the film.

First,  doubts are cast on how we see Church doctrine when it comes to the female cause. After all, there is no real Biblical evidence that Mary Magdalene was an adulteress or profited from sex, though the patriarchal Medieval Church hinted otherwise.

Nevertheless, women were regarded as second class citizens, the Virgin Mary aside. She avoids what churchmen abhorred in the Early Middle Ages, the sensual woman. After all, she never really had sex.

Jac Avila challenges this minimalist view of the women in two other characters in the narrative, Rosalie (Mila Joya) and Omphale (Beatriz Rivera), who are present at Justine’s punishment.

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Rosalie, Omphale, and Justine share the common bond of torture and pain, a point that becomes more important when the film delves into Rodin and his amusement with the fairer sex.

In fact, the girls are nervously watching a punishment that is already familiar to them.

That leads us to the film’s second theme: the empowered woman. Jac Avila’s Justine is hardly Sade’s innocent, hapless soul imploring Heaven’s Grace to save her.

She has her own will that leads to self-created problems . . . and she pays in the end.

But more on this feminist view later.

You Can Only Die Once

After her bloody punishment, Justine is taken to the pillory and secured to await the dawn.

The spectators are informed that by daybreak Justine’s execution will be settled upon since she has “but one life to live.” So much for the years of hard labor in the original sentence.

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Juliette (Cortney Wills), a witness to the whipping, walks over and touches Justine’s cheek, asking how “you, with a very sweet face, find yourself in such a dreadful plight.”

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A tearful Justine replies that were she to tell her story, she “would accuse the Hand of Heaven and I dare not.”

The dictates of her unwavering faith are understandable, though a bit over-the-top. But there’s more. Justine’s troubles are of her own making. Even for those who conceive of God as the great clock maker (popular with the Deists in Sade’s time), the miserable wretch has to bear some responsibility for her actions.

Sade would not disagree, but Jac Avila’s alternative look at an empowered Justine flies in the face of the French aristocrat.

Remember, empowerment means making choices.

Pounds of Flesh

The executioner (Eric Calancha) puts aside his whip and sodomizes his helpless victim.

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Rodin (Jac Avila as actor) approaches Juliette and introduces himself. She responds with “Madame de Lorsange.”

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By this time, the executioner has finished with his pound of flesh, so Rodin politely excuses himself to duck behind the stocks for his own Sadean go at Justine. Juliette looks on with patience, thoroughly amused.

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In the face of all plausibility, Justine calmly begins as Rodin pumps away. Apparently anal violation at the hands of a pedophile sparks casual conversation. It’s a parody of Sade, of course, whose own narrative of Justine’s travails is so outré as to garner chuckles. But does Jac Avila also parody the Church in a way Sade ignores?

If that’s not enough grist for the mill, consider the film’s flashback narrators.  Justine, and later Juliette, break the fourth wall and talk directly to the camera, engaging the audience directly with a more pointed method than a simple literary first person.

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What’s going on here?

A lot, actually, and it sets up a very entertaining and highly recommended film.

In the next post we’ll find out the details of Dubois, Saint-Florent, and Bressac.

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One of the endearing aspects of indie film is the cooperation that is built into everyone connected with the project. When money and time are limited, the cast accepts responsibilities to assist the director of cinematography.

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Barbazul, Part Two: The Dangling Key

by Rich Moreland, September 2016

In thinking about Barbazul, I ran various interpretations through my mind. This is the one I settled upon.

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films and Decadent Cinema.

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The Taproot

For fans of Amy Hesketh films, the opening credits of Barbazul provide a glimpse into the erotic expectations she offers. Amy’s character is flogged and garroted in an outdoor nighttime scene. But hold on, this is not a BDSM film. Rather it is a bizarre and finely crafted journey of a man in search of his soul.

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For the religious, salvation requires pain, suffering and death: the birth-death-rebirth archetype found in all ancient civilizations. As I’ve previously written, the theme of rebirth is ever-present in a Pachamama/Decadent production, though not always in the politest of ways.

In Barbazul, Amy’s Bluebeard desires to connect with himself, to confront and conquer the shadows within his personality that torment him. It’s a form of redemption.

There is one problem, however. Corpses of the fairer sex litter the path along the way.

Here’s why.

Psychologist Carl Jung asserts that to become a whole person we must reconcile the subdued side of our personality with its dominate side. In one respect, it’s gender oriented. The duality of anima (female) and animus (male) come into play in determining behavior.

To look at it in non-gendered way, we show our public front, our persona, while we cope with our less well-developed self, our shadow. The persona is often a mask, very much like an avatar, while the shadow is real, our darkest feelings and urges similar to Freud’s infantile id.

Throughout the process, we are subjected to a myriad of human emotions, among them the drive for success, love, and empowerment and their opposites, anxiety, hatred, and fear.

However, the most painful emotion is rejection . . . and that is the taproot of the Barbazul story for anger and hurt can fester on the underside of who we are.

Amy Hesketh’s scriptwriting and direction artfully explores this dichotomy and Bluebeard’s struggle to find its resolution within himself.

Buying His Bride

In the film’s opening scene a young woman dressed in black is seductively climbing a rocky terrace. It’s a photo shoot and she is as primordial as she can get. Bluebeard (Jac Avila), a man of means in Amy Hesketh’s story as he is in Charles Perrault’s, is on hand to watch.

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He likes his women crawling and slithering, the temptress archetype exhibiting her basest instincts.

barbazul00020303-300x168The cameraman, Paul (Erix Antoine) is overly critical of his model, Soledad (Mila Joya), referring to her as a “useless cunt.”

When the shoot takes a break, the belittled girl is approached by Bluebeard.

He invites her to dinner and the romancing begins.

Perrault’s Bluebeard is physically unattractive, not so in Amy Hesketh’s interpretation of the story. And, she’s given her Barbazul an easy way with women.

With the demure Soledad we are introduced to Bluebeard’s modus operandi that includes picnics and boat rides in the park. Offered a ring, she accepts and the scene shifts quickly to a hotel room for a premarital romp.

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Bluebeard instructs her undress but modesty prevails and she doesn’t remove her undies . . . the reality of the temptress quickly fades.

“Do you remember what you were doing when we met? Do it now,” Bluebeard insists with quiet firmness.

Soledad gets on the bed and crawls toward him.

As a sign of commitment, Bluebeard’s women wear the ring on their right hand as is customary in some European and Latin American countries. In the story it’s a single ring removed from one woman and passed to the next.

Incidentally, Bluebeard marries only one of his fiancées, Annabelle, but curiously the ring is not shifted to her left hand in the usual practice.

Later Bluebeard dines with his intended and her sister. Soledad is shy and a little nervous, perhaps caused by naiveté or an innate fear that something isn’t right. (Interestingly, she remains barefoot through much of the film, existing in an infantile state like young girls in Perrault’s time.)

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Hearing of his plans, the sister, Ana (Mariella Salaverry), remarks, “You’re buying her. Do whatever you want.”

Soledad bows her head in shame. They have no parents to protect them, a set-up for disaster.

Off to the Plantation

With his betrothed beside him, Bluebeard drives the dusty road into the countryside. Isolation and desolation frame the visual theme with aerial shots of the jeep snaking through the mountains. The road is descending at first, then climbs to reach the metaphoric height of loneliness.

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At this point, the narrative shifts to the hacienda. In fact, it’s one of the movie’s central characters, its persona and shadow a reflection of Bluebeard himself.

Walter (Beto Lopez), Bluebeard’s alter ego, acts as butler and “administrator” of the estate. Walter’s appearance is a counterpoint to Bluebeard’s. He is clean-shaven, prim, proper, and dresses immaculately.

He’s also sinister and secretive.

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Incidentally, clothing is a major image in this film. For the women it’s dresses; for the men, neckware.

More formal than Bluebeard’s scarves, Walter’s ties are displayed in a colorful collection that corresponds to the rack of dresses in Bluebeard’s forbidden room. Neatness counts, of course. Walter is there to help Bluebeard keep up appearances.

One of Bluebeard’s women, Agata, insults him when she suggests they get rid of Walter (impossible, of course, because he is Bluebeard’s second self). On the other hand, Ana later suggests Walter should get a raise. Listening, the butler smiles wryly, smokes a cigarette and carries his own ashtray while he awaits the final bloodbath.

Empty Spaces

The plantation house feels empty and lonely. Upon arriving, Bluebeard opens a gate to go in. It carries a jail cell image in a shot that is heavily shadowed. At the end of a long veranda, Soledad walks from light into darkness.

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Bluebeard’s bedroom is sparse with a weary, depleted feel that is mirrored in Bluebeard’s expression when the film concludes. Notice the dresser/chest of drawers outside the bedroom door. Some of the drawer pulls are intact, others absent, and a couple replaced with short pieces of rope.

They reveal Bluebeard’s ritual. Women begin as decorations then die by strangulation leaving empty spaces.

The Chapel

Bluebeard takes Soledad on a bike ride around the estate (Annabelle refuses his offer, as we’ll see). They stop at the chapel where the camera focuses on statuary of a weeping Madonna and a Madonna and child. A male figure with a dangling key on a red cord is emphasized in a subtle tribute to Charles Perrault.

The icons are delicate but lack animation.

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He wants to know if Soledad likes the chapel.

“Will we get married here?” she asks.

Though a crucified Christ is within sight, Soledad is clueless as to what awaits her.

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Amy Hesketh now directly references Perrault’s story. Bluebeard gives Soledad the keys to the house and mentions there is a room she is not to enter. He knows she will, of course, but says nothing.

Later when they have sex in his bedroom, there is a burning candle (male desire and empowerment) on each side of the shelf above the bed. There is another phallic symbol, a print of the Eiffel Tower. There is no companion print of female sexuality.

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Soledad learns Bluebeard is leaving for the city and will return with her sister.

Alone the next morning, she goes to the dresser for her robe and finds a portfolio of photographs. Some are nudes. She lays them out on the bed before returning them to the drawer.

Picking up the keys, she’s ready to sate her curiosity.

Getting to Annabelle

barbazul00351719-300x168Having finished shaving, Walter notices Soledad headed for the forbidden room. He goes into a small bedroom and picks out the first tie to the left.

All is going according to plan.

Compared with the austere interior of the house, the office, for that is what it appears to be, is cluttered most likely because Walter avoids it.

There’s an old dusty wall telephone, a cash register that dates back at least a hundred years, and a desk with an old-fashioned adding machine. Newspapers and journals are scattered about. On another table there appear to be chemical containers.

Is the winemaking business still alive because in this room not everything is?

At this stage of her story, Amy Hesketh deviates from Perrault. There are no suspended corpses or pools of blood, just a tired looking office. The plantation teaches us that appearances can deceive.  The shadow forever lingers beneath the persona.

Oh yes, don’t forget that rack of dresses nicely displayed in a line just to the right of the office door. The first is a black mini, the last a pink polka-dot; a dark sequined one and a red outfit are in between. As we will come to realize, an extra dress hangs alongside the others. Is it reserved for Soledad?

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And, of course, prominently placed on the desk where it can’t be missed is a black bound journal. Soledad, like the young wife in Charles Perrault’s story, is consumed with the fatal flaw of curiosity. She spots it and can’t resist it’s contents.

No problem, Bluebeard wants his imprisoned prey to read about those who came before her.

That brings us to Annabelle and the next post in this series . . .

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DVDs of Barbazul can be ordered from Vermeerworks and Amazon

Amy Hesketh is on twitter and Facebook. Her website can be found here.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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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