Tag Archives: Pachamama Films

Reflections on Sirwiñakuy

by Rich Moreland, June 2017

From the movie source IMDb about Sirwiñakuy:

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

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

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

About an hour and forty minutes later it was over.

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

Why?

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

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

My “Oh Hum”

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

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

Here’s the real reason.

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

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

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

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

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

Rewind

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

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

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

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

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

Ditch the Sound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I do.

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

Creeping Up

Sleepwalking now conquered, what’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, Miss Veronica

A word is due about the captivatingly gorgeous Veronica Paintoux.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toying with a Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . But that is only a guess.

Authentic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is not to love about her?

But remember, it’s all consensual.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the director at work:

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Le Marquis, Part 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 Two: Wild with Lust

by Rich Moreland, April 2017

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

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

All photos are courtesy of the company.

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Wretched Creature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spaniard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stoicism and Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the Roses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dangling Rope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Le Marquis, Part One: The Museum

by Rich Moreland, April 2017

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

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

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

All photos are courtesy of Pachamama Films.

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The Story

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

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

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

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

Strikingly Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back Streets

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gypsy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You can follow Jac Avila:

 

And Amy Hesketh:

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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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Barbazul, Part One: Cut Off Her Head

by Rich Moreland, September 2016

At Jac Avila’s recommendation, I watched Amy Hesketh’s Barbazul, a Pachamama Films/Decadent Cinema production. The film is a thought-provoking drama that dances between erotic horror and a psychological thriller.

In this first installment of a four part review, we take a look at the original story.

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The fairy tale as we know it today is a product of the Golden Age of Hollywood, cleaned up by the Disney people so as not to offend. But what about the original tales? They come from all cultures though the ones we’re most familiar with have European roots that reach across the continent.

The most popular stories come from the Brothers Grimm, who lived in Germany in the 1800s. But there are early well-known versions from France via Charles Perrault, a 17th century lawyer who turned his hand to writing. He specialized in morality tales and penned stories such as Mother Goose, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and the subject of this review, Bluebeard.

0_942da_3d44e4ec_origWhat we forget is this. Perrault’s narratives are grisly in nature. Little Red Riding Hood is stalked by a sexual predator when she ventures alone into the woods. Don’t we warn our children about strangers?

In Sleeping Beauty, the prince revives his beloved, they marry and have two children. The mother-in-law (Queen Mother) is not pleased and demands the children and their mother be cooked and served well done.

When that culinary plan falls through, she prepares to toss them into a vat of “vipers, snakes, and serpents,” Perrault writes. Her vengence will be satisfied and the little slithering rascals will enjoy a pleasant, but perhaps overly crowded, feast of their own.

Keeping all of this in mind, let’s take a further look at Bluebeard, a tale of dripping blood and curiosity that went too far.

The Dropped Key

Bluebeard, as the story goes, is a man “so ugly and frightening that women and girls fled at the sight of him.” Nevertheless, this man of means marries the youngest daughter of a “high-class lady” using his wealth to woo her with “picnics and parties.” The outcome is a May-December marriage.

Illustration by Gustave Dore

Illustration by Gustave Dore

Later Bluebeard takes a trip and leaves his wife the keys to the house with instructions to stay away from a certain room “at the end of the gallery.” Bluebeard’s warning reflects 17th century thinking. Women were expected to act within established boundaries and ask no questions.

“Open everything, go everywhere, but I forbid you to enter that little room,” he says, promising she will a pay price if she disobeys.

Not surprisingly, curiosity gets the best of the young woman and she searches out the room despite knowing punishment awaits her. “The temptation was too strong for her to resist,” Perrault writes.

Unlocking the door, she discovers the floor “sticky with clotted blood.” Reflected in this glistening pool were “the corpses of several women, hanging up along the wall.” They were Bluebeard’s previous wives “whose throats he had cut, one after another,” Perrault tells the reader.

Illustration by Hermann Vogel

Illustration by Hermann Vogel

Terrified, the bride drops the key which is quickly doused in the red stuff. She tries to clean it repeatedly, but it becomes “enchanted” and the stain never goes away.

When Bluebeard returns, the girl is quickly outed by the bloody key. Pressed for an explanation, her denials are unconvincing, sealing her fate.

“You will take your place beside the ladies you saw there,” he shouts, but does concede her a little time before his cutlass will do its work.

All seems lost though the lass does have a chance. She entreats her sister to keep watch for their brothers who are due to arrive at any moment. Desperation sets in as the final hour creeps closer and closer. But good fortune intervenes. The brothers break in just as Bluebeard is “ready to cut off her head.”

The day is saved and the young wife, despite her disobedience, becomes “mistress of all his belongings” because Bluebeard had no heirs.

A Paltry Pleasure

Perrault leaves the reader with the moral of the tale. “Curiosity has its lure,” he says, but it is a “paltry kind of pleasure and a risky game.” Simply put, this episode is the fault of the young bride who doesn’t understand her place in the household.

But, it is a fairy tale, uncomplicated and straight forward. Explanations for cruel behavior are unneeded in a patriarchal society. In the 1600s women were to do as they were told.

In her film, Barbazul, writer and director Amy Hesketh explores what is unsaid in Perrault’s narrative. She builds a back story around each of the wives and offers the viewer a surprising and chilly ending that leaves more questions than it answers.

In doing so, she explores the mind of a killer in ways unimagined in the Frenchman’s time.

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Artfully done, Barbazul gives the initial impression of following Charles Perrault. The young wife, Soledad, like Perrault’s creation, is the subject of the film, or so it seems. But that is not Amy Hesketh’s intention.

You see, Barbazul is about Bluebeard and his attempts to exorcise his demons. The film is a strange, dark, psychological journey of man who has a personality disorder at best and is a serial killer at worse.

One more point.

Bluebeard is a misogynist in Perrault story, we suppose, but there is no convincing explanation. Does Amy’s film verify that label for her Barbazul and does that define his murderous inclinations?

In the next three posts, we’ll take a look.

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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.”

LeMarquisTeaseCaps01223212-720x405

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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