Tag Archives: Robert Louis Stevenson

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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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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Olalla, Part Six: In Her Eyes

by Rich Moreland, July 2016

Here is the final post on Olalla. 

I added this segment as a tribute to the talent and artistry of Amy Hesketh.

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Amy Hesketh’s eroticism is unique in her roles. Consider Maleficarum’s Mariana and Dead But Dreaming’s Irish traveler to appreciate how Amy puts her body out there in a way that elevates sensuality beyond whatever passes for the commonplace and predictable in our culture.

Rarely can an actor pull off suffering in such a way that it becomes a visual spectacle that gives us pause. Amy’s performance in Olalla’s burning scene, for example, honors her as a true Grand Guignol artist.

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Olalla is my third Amy Hesketh film.10272592_474695762659833_4244678109927385087_o Her penchant for the abused victim and her courage to explore what anguish means in a psychological, spiritual, and physical context defines her work. Were she in Paris in the years before and after the Second World War, Amy would have been welcomed at the Theater of Horror.

Yet there is something else about Amy’s performance art that is irresistible, lures the viewer into her soul, and makes the story come alive.

It’s her eyes.

AMYUKHorrorNo matter the mood or the moment, they are mesmerizing, mystifying and exotic, haunting and intoxicating, penetrating, plaintive, often filled with pain, and sometimes inexplicably shy.

In Olalla Amy may have murderer’s blood splashed about, but her eyes remain the enigma, perplexed, almost befuddled by her deeds, yet driven with lust. In the end, they scream of “the body in pain” in all its agony.

Connecting with Amy

When we first meet Olalla in the original story, Robert Louis Stevenson reaches across time in a way he could never have imagined. It’s as if his vision of Olalla speaks to him directly through Amy Hesketh’s presence.

The unnamed English officer is quickly smitten when he finally encounters the mysterious senorita. Stevenson tells us why. God had “lighted the torches of the soul” in her eyes and “looked out” from them “and conquered mine,” the soldier says.

“In Olalla all that I desired and had not dared to imagine was united.”

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In the film version of the story, Nathan tells Olalla her beauty is enticing beyond what we consider normal.

Indeed it is. But there is more. Amy Hesketh blends into Olalla so seamlessly that we sometimes forget there is a separation between actress and character. We willfully suspend our disbelief with ease, the mark of fine storytelling, because Amy is bold, sensitive, and seductive.

Stevenson is not finished, however. As if Amy is standing before him, the Victorian author declares through the officer, “In her eyes I could read depth beyond depth of passion and sadness, light of poetry and hope, blackness of despair.”

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Amy Hesketh’s on-screen presence animates Stevenson’s words. Her eyes, in all their kaleidoscopic beauty and mystery, convince even the most casual viewer that her talent and her emotion are a provocative venture into film.

Stevenson sets the bar; Amy’s Olalla rises above it.

Emotional Catharsis

As we have seen, Amy Hesketh is the woman in pain, a victim who is misunderstood and condemned to the most awful of miseries from which, like the endearing Maxa of the Grand Guignol,  she rarely survives.

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Her torments, often inflicted by the bigotry of the righteous, defines Amy’s self-imposed artistic fate. In reality, it’s a personal psychosocial journey that explores woman as prey, scapegoat, and sacrifice, powerless to avoid the anguish that persecutors turn into sadomasochist pleasure.

But the victim scenario is not quite that simple because there a silenced anger shouting from within.

In Olalla, the deck is stacked against the younger sister. Her blood feast compulsions throttles whatever happiness she might realize. The notion that if freed from its familial shackles, Olalla’s determination would prevail. But we never see it, though Amy lets us know it’s there.

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Highlighting all of her roles is a desire to explore the “body in pain” that infuses Amy’s art.

In Maleficarum, lesbian lovers Mariana and Francisca (Mila Joya) are sadistically tortured by the Church. In Dead But Dreaming it’s the whipping post for Moire’s political crimes then a vampire feast at the hands of the fiendish Nara (Veronica Paintoux).

And, of course, there is Olalla who is beaten on the cross to satisfy superstitious villagers who believe monsters are Satan’s work.

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These films present an emotional catharsis that releases Amy Hesketh to inhabit her characters in a way that few, if any, female performers can deliver in the erotic horror genre.

It’s intoxicating. We look away, but like the English soldier, can’t resist looking back.

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By way of Mel Gordon’s Theatre of Fear and Horror, I’ll let the Grand Guignol playwright Andre de Lorde close out this analysis of Olalla.

“At all times . . . horror shows have drawn large audiences. If the Inquisition had made public its interrogations conducted on the rack, they would have had to turn people away.”

Here’s a toast to you, Amy Hesketh. You know this all too well.

We love to watch.

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Olalla, Part Five: The Portrait

by Rich Moreland, July 2016

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

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

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Gothic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A test for angle and shadowing.

A test for angle and shadowing.

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

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

The images are together

The images: the soldier, Christ, and the ancestor

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

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

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

Feeling Alive?

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

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

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

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

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

Olalla and Nathan talk among the images within the cabinet.

Olalla and Nathan talk among the images within the cabinet.

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

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

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

A Few Words about the Production

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A director has many jobs!

A director has many jobs . . .

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

Which includes set construction . . .

Which includes set construction . . .

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

A celebratory moment!

A celebratory moment!

The Budget

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

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

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

Their home is well-appointed.

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

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

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

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

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

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Olalla, Part Four: The Flesh of Brutes

by Rich Moreland, July 2016

For some viewers, an Amy Hesketh film shivers with a sexual chill. For others, it’s pure heat. 

Either way, horror films in general are erotically perverse and Amy taps into that appeal.

 As we’ve seen, however, Amy Hesketh differs from other fear and terror filmmakers because her movies focus on realism while more traditional horror is pure fantasy. The result?  Amy’s torture scenes dominate the genre in ways others can only envy. The inquisition film, Maleficarum, is a classic example.

In Olalla, Amy adds another ingredient: the monster image as it resides in the human psyche. Let’s take a look.

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“Monster” is a recurring theme in the filmed version of Olalla. The family hurls the accusation Olalla’s way, though in the original short story, Stevenson never uses the word, preferring to rely on suggestion.

For example, the English officer hears wailing in the night he describes as “pitiable and hateful cries” that are “ravings worthy of hell.” But the source is never identified.

10924645_10153193700991840_5293608269395833368_oLater, when Olalla declares she will have no children, “My vow has been given; the race shall cease from off the earth,” Stevenson intimates dysfunctional idlers and strange creatures inhabit the family.

Do they?

To find out, let’s investigate how the monster image drives Amy Hesketh’s screenplay.

It’s My Turn

Uncle Felipe has his way with the sisters.

In the scene in which he emotionally abuses and punishes Olalla, Ofelia helps him tie her to the bed. Afterward, Felipe forces himself on his restrained niece in an act of incest and power (he is teaching her a lesson), though within the family that’s likely their version of “normal.”

To reinforce his discipline, Uncle Felipe reminds Olalla that she is “monster” and “they kill monsters” in a reference to her mother’s death.

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Later Felipe visits Ofelia who makes seductive moves in his direction. With her submissive side ready to romp, she coos, “It’s now my turn.” He closes the door behind him and we are left with an incestuous tryst that recalls the English officer’s inbreeding comment in Stevenson’s story.

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On another occasion, Olalla peeks through the door of Ofelia’s bedroom. Her sister is nude except for a corset and thigh-high stockings. Uncle Felipe is smacking her bottom in a brief scene that is reminiscent of a 1960s roughie or kinkie.*

jac and mila 2If there is any jealousy on Olalla’s part, we don’t see it and wouldn’t expect to. For her, Felipe’s riding crop is a source of discomfort, not the erotic fun Ofelia anticipates.

Unlike other Amy Hesketh productions, the scene is not explored further, though a brief glimpse of the sultry Mila Joya in her Bettie mode is a welcome moment.

Of course, there is irony at work here because Felipe proves that he’s just another fiend creeping around the family tree and raises the question of how long has this been going on.

Obsession Feeds the Monster

Olalla’s unnatural proclivity (compulsion? kink?) is revealed early in her life. In a telling scene, she and her sister are walking a narrow path that is a reminder of the hacienda hallway of present time. They’re followed at some distance by Roberto and their mother who have struck up a relationship Stevenson’s Englishman could only imagine.

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The taller Ofelia suddenly cries to her sister, “What have you done, you animal?” Little Olalla raises her head, blood on her mouth. On the ground is a dead bird with a gash in its neck.

young olallaThe girl looks confused, guilty, and helpless.

This moment defines Olalla’s past. Uncle Felipe and Ofelia will struggle to keep her self-destruction from putting everyone in peril, though it is the family that ironically endangers her. Olalla, who desperately wants to be normal, will be disciplined and under lock and key within the house.

10959611_10153193663996840_5116423304263740522_nIn fact, Stevenson foretells Olalla’s fate. In the original story she explains to the soldier why their love will never come to be. The family “seed” was passed on, she says, but it’s “wrapped” in “the flesh of brutes” who are “inflicted with the mind of flies.” This infestation will stop with her.

In Amy’s film, the original Olalla propagates the family’s decadency and pays dearly. What does this portend for her daughters? Like the Victorians, Amy is leaving it to us to figure out.

Familiar Ground

So, we fast forward to modern times and, as mentioned above, Felipe binds a nude Olalla to her bed, hands over head and feet secured to the opposite end of the bedstead. She is wayward once again, this time with her boyfriend, and needs a forceful reminder.

Felipe uses the riding crop to raise some real welts on Olalla’s torso and thighs. It’s beautifully shot scene and once again marks (pun intended) Amy Hesketh as the darling of softcore sadomasochism.

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But, there is more going on here because the film gives Amy, as both director and actor, the opportunity to present erotic punishment from two distinct psychological perspectives.

As the modern Olalla, she is not the innocent victim. Rather, she is defiant and angry, caught in her own time warp in which she cannot escape her destructive and bloody urges.

We see this when Ofelia tempts Olalla with an apple, the traditional forbidden fruit. She dangles it and pulls it away letting Olalla know that breaking the bonds of the family’s perverse garden of joy may linger as a desire, but doing it is another matter.

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In her role as the 1800s’ Olalla, Amy is on familiar psychological ground: the innocent victim. Taking refuge in a church, the desperate and frightened Olalla persuades her daughters to flee with Felipe, then awaits the village mob. She prays just as her literary counterpart does at the end of Stevenson’s tale.

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But her fate will not be to suffer silently. Rather, it plays out dragging and screaming to a heinous end.

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The villagers finally put her away with a crucifixion and burning, but not without a good flogging first. In the fashion of Biblical retribution, the mother suffers for the familial sins she has passed to her children—Ofelia’s incestuous desires and little Olalla’s blood thirst.

Is this final act a futile attempt at redemption?

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The extended scene is a reminder that as the Irish traveler in Dead But Dreaming and the tortured Mariana in Maleficarum, Amy Hesketh performs with a pathos and realism rarely found in cinema today. The Grand Guignol would be proud.

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The Final Real Monster

The cartoonist Walt Kelly’s Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Amy Hesketh reminds her audience that the horrific vigilante murder of Olalla is the worst of human depravity: mob violence.

As the purifying fires of Christian mythology leap around Olalla, the vengeful expressions of the villagers become intermittent commentators on what they really are, a collective monster that far surpasses the degeneracy of Olalla’s family.

The flames of satisfaction intensify and the victim’s cries pierce the darkness. With the end moments away, the mob mentality suddenly recedes replaced by faces of regret and shame. Is the recognition of evil the final act of redemption?

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Oh yes, there is another monster in Olalla we cannot overlook: the demon of violent death neatly packaged by its flatterers: insanity, fear, amorality, hatred, and self-righteousness.

But it never comes without society’s approbation of the real monster that infects us, the ubiquitous “they,” the source of all evil that Uncle Felipe recognizes when he chastises Olalla.

It forever haunts our consciousness and feeds our imagination . . . along with The Grand Guignol and Pogo, of course.

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* In the decade before the birth of modern adult film, movies contained nude scenes in what we know today as softcore. Eventually, audiences wanted more but male/female penetration was off limits.

Love_Camp_7_1To spice up offerings, B-movie makers like David Freidman and Joseph Mawra resorted to rape, whippings, torture, and general mayhem to put the naked girl on the big screen.

These films became their own adult/horror sub-genre called roughies, kinkies, and ghoulies–largely realistic in settings that resided in society’s underbelly, such as the mad doctor’s house of pain, spy interrogation, female prisons, and human trafficking, commonly known as white slavery.

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The next post explores some of Olalla’s cinematography.

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Olalla, Part Three: Between Reality and Fantasy

by Rich Moreland, July 2016

In this post, we’ll consider the concept of time and how its dimension enriches Amy Hesketh’s take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Olalla.

As scriptwriter and director, Amy floats her Olalla between centuries, stepping beyond the original Victorian version by incorporating time as a dominant motif.

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Olalla is marvelously complex. The casual observer who believes Amy Hesketh simply picks up the story where Robert Louis Stevenson left off is short-changing the film. She has integrated her modern tale with Stevenson’s in a cleverly scripted narrative.

More than a century separates Amy from the Victorian author, who also penned the macabre Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. That’s important because Olalla requires an understanding of time.

It can be a bit complicated, but here’s what I think is going on.

A Hundred Years

1392102_10152846713131840_9087870720375318202_nStevenson’s short story was published in 1885, but the narrative takes place in an earlier time period, the Iberian Peninsular War (1807-1814) in which the English fought the French.

Dropping hints that Olalla is a victim of her family’s past, Stevenson let’s it go without explanation. Amy picks up the thread by illustrating Olalla’s past with flashbacks set in the late Victorian Age.

As evidence of Amy’s approach, we have the period portrait over the living room hearth and the clothing of Olalla, Felipe, and the girls as a contrast to modern times. By the way, note its placement in the box cover shot above.

In other words, Amy uses Stevenson’s Victorian Era as her back story, moving the narrative forward by a century or more, depending on how we interpret her use of present time.

Here’s what I mean.

In the film’s opening scene we find the modern Olalla and her boyfriend in their apartment watching Nosferatu, the 1922 silent film widely recognized as the original vampire classic.

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The TV is a flat screen with posters of other Pachamama films, Barbazul and Dead But Dreaming, on the wall above it. Okay, its product placement but everybody does it.

Here is where things get interesting. The boyfriend mentions that due to lost prints, a reconstruction of Nosferatu was shown at the Berlin Film Festival in 1985. In a nod to the original story, that is exactly a hundred years after Stevenson’s publication date.

NosferatuThere’s more. The boyfriend also remarks that Nosferatu is an example of German Expressionism, itself a lost form of film making. His comment lays the ground work for Amy to push beyond the Expressionist label. It’s a stroke of genius. Here’s why.

Dr. Mel Gordon in his book, Theater of Fear and Horror: The Grisly Spectacle of the Grand Guignol of Paris, asserts that the “unexpected brutalities and overall mad feeling of the German Expressionist film had less to do with Expressionism from the German stage than the influence of the Grand Guignol.”

This insight alone elevates Amy Hesketh’s production to levels akin to the horror films of Vincent Price and Christopher Lee because she uses the realism of the Grand Guignol without over indulging the fantasy aspect of the story.

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Simply put, when it comes to fantasy, Amy Hesketh is more interested in the lessons of the Parisian horror stage. Naturalism compliments fantasy rather than the supernatural directing it. For that reason, we have the crucifixion at the end. It’s the real deal, no vampire imaginations needed.

By the way, though the vampire’s name in Nosferatu was changed to Count Orlok, as the boyfriend notes, Bram Stoker’s estate sued over the unauthorized use of the Dracula novel. Nosferatu’s prints were ordered to be burned; fortunately, some survived.

The First Rule

Amy’s screenplay employs everyday items to illustrate the atrophy of Olalla’s modern family. For example, there is an old rotary phone in the apartment Olalla uses when she reports her dastardly deed to her sister, Ofelia.

Olalla must make that phone call.

Olalla must make that phone call.

A cursory review of Olalla’s family hacienda furnishings shows us an antique radio in Ofelia’s room, and kitchen appliances–a coffee pot, tea kettle, and meat grinders–that recall an earlier time. Later, the party music comes by way of vinyl and a turntable.

This is not to suggest that these things are not still in use today, it is merely to point out their importance in understanding the story.

In other words, is the family living in a past (exactly when is not clear) that connects them within a century of Stevenson?  If so, Amy Hesketh is putting the Olalla puzzle together within the bounds of its major motif and re-establishing the first rule of good vampire tales, they cut across time. . . everyone lives simultaneously in the past and present with no vision of the future.

Keep this in mind because Amy’s handling of that part of the story is brilliant, as we will see.

Ofelia’s fetish sexuality resides in Bettie Page, whose posters she has in her room. Also, her bangs are all Bettie and she sports the dominatrix-like corset and garters the pioneering bondage model popularized. Of course, these BDSM accoutrements are favored today, but in this case it lets us know that Ofelia’s self-image is 1950s/1960s oriented, another variance within of the time motif.

For further proof of that aspect of the film, check out Bruno’s outfit. He is a fugitive of the Disco Era where clothing alters identities and fetish, queer, and camp all met at the same crossroads under the glittering mirror balls. Think 1970s/1980s.

Ready to shoot, radio in place with Bettie posters on the wall.

Ready to shoot, radio in place with Bettie Page posters on the wall.

Also, notice that the tatted Ofelia is an occultist who plays with Tarot cards and has sex with her uncle. The occultism/mysticism theme played well in the Grand Guignol whose history (1897-1962) is within Ofelia’s personal time fetish.

Seven

The family is in trouble. It is dying of old age and needs re-energizing which accounts for the arrival of Uncle Felipe and Bruno. Incidentally, if aging is an issue, then they’re not vampires in the traditional sense. Maybe it’s really only Olalla?

Like the Victorian writers, Amy is leaving some of this up to us.

On the practical side, Felipe is the judge and enforcer (there is a gavel on the wall over his shoulder in one scene). His purpose is to discipline the two young women, because without them, the family line comes to an end.

Holding the riding crop, Ofelia awaits Uncle Felipe who will use it where needed.

Holding the riding crop, Ofelia awaits Uncle Felipe who will use it where needed.

In the meantime, the slothful aunt raises the ante when she tells Ofelia she must help her little sister or the childbearing “responsibility will fall on you.”

mila and auntEveryone feels the pressure. Bruno comments that he and Olalla came to visit from the north (does he mean like the helpful Witch of the North who guides Dorothy to see the Wizard of Oz for a ticket home?). He bakes goodies for everyone’s sweet tooth and stores the blood bags in the fridge, all to keep the family in functioning mode.

However, Bruno is gay and everyone else is ancient in childbearing terms.

That leaves Ofelia, whose bondage fetish reduces sex to playtime, and the wayward Olalla as the only reproduction options. It’s not a pretty picture.

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Notice there are seven family members, the archetypal number of completion found in myth and legend. Obviously, the recalcitrant Olalla must remain within the fold, so controlling her is number one on the family bucket list.

The Hallway

10533207_523083637821045_1176408918808312946_nThe film’s physical metaphor for time is the hallway in the family’s house. It is long and narrow with a bank of grimy windows on one side that over looks a deteriorating neighborhood.

Opposite is a dreary greenish wall lined with a myriad of plants positioned to strain for the sun which struggles to shine in.

The pottings are the family’s generations, once of “princely stock,” Stevenson says, but now “degenerate,” and, Amy shows us, totally immovable and dependent.

In the original story, Stevenson’s English soldier travels a road that “began to go down into the narrow and naked chasm of a torrent” (a stream) and later the reader learns that the family home was “hemmed” in by mountains. This visual imagery is repeated with the tightly packed buildings outside the hallway windows in modern times.

Amy maintains the same image in a flashback segment in the film. Roberto walks with Olalla and her daughters down a narrow pathway that is flanked by buildings on one side in an outdoor version of the hallway.

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Earlier when we first encounter the corridor, Olalla approaches the camera from afar. The shot is elevated to emphasize the distance across time she travels from her childhood that is inexplicably a century earlier.

Using the hallway we can orient ourselves to interpret the story. By facing the windows with our back to the wall, a look to the left gives us the past, to the right, the present.

Olalla comes from the past bearing her sins

The door to the past is open and waiting for its daughter of blood

The characters move back and forth along its distance, but never leave because there is no future. Confined by a physical narrowness that robs them of all options, they are in limbo, essentially a suspended time warp that imprisons their depravity and dissolution.

Think of it this way by borrowing from Bram Stoker: wherever they go the family members must return to their soil. The hallway is their version of Dracula’s coffin. It, too, has no future.

In the end after Olalla reveals she has tricked the family, she leaves the party and turns left into the hallway. She’s going back to her personal past, in this case her nasty biting habits. The family follows her and pauses, uncertain what to do. Felipe points the pistol (that did not serve its intended purpose during the party) at Olalla. A single shot to the back of the head will do the trick.

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But the family, like Olalla, is left suspended between reality and fantasy, the present and the past, unable to act in any meaningful way.

Told you Amy Hesketh is brilliant . . .

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In the fourth installment of this analysis, we’ll investigate what it means to be a monster.

 

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Olalla, Part Two: Depraved Miscreants

by Rich Moreland, July 2016

Olalla is billed as a vampire film, but how do we define vampire in the context it presents? Let’s take a look.

All photos are compliments of Amy Hesketh and Vermeerworks.

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Credit to the Troupe

Robert Louis Stevenson’s original “Olalla” hints at vampirism without any real overt evidence. Keeping this in mind, Amy Hesketh borrows just the right amount from the Victorian short story to expand the narrative without misplacing its thread.

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In place of the English officer, she puts a traveler named Roberto (Cristian Del Rio) in the 1800s sequences. Nathan, the family’s guest when the narrative shifts to the present day, is a wartime photojournalist played by Luis Almanza.

Felipe is a dual figure: the younger version is played by Alejandro Loayza A and the older by Jac Avila who is superb as the family’s enforcer.

Alejandro Loayza A, Cristian Del Rio, Amy Hesketh, Rhobess Pierre

Alejandro Loayza A, Cristian Del Rio, Amy Hesketh, Rhobess Pierre

Lastly, the padre (Rhobess Pierre) serves the same function in both versions of the story.

Other characters are added. There is Olalla’s sister, Ofelia (Mila Joya), the aunt (Maria Esther Arteaga), the “twin” uncles (Beto Lopez L and Fermin Nunez), and the young Olalla and Ofelia (played by sisters Valeria and Rosario Huanca)

Finally, Erix Antoine is terrific as Bruno, the family member who tries his best to keep the house and everyone around him on the edge of normal. Pay close attention to the “muffin verses sweet cake” debate between Bruno and the uncles. The humorous innuendoes are priceless!

The family enjoys their sweets. (L to R) the uncles, Nathan, Uncle Felipe, Ofelia, the aunt, Bruno.

The family enjoys their sweets. (L to R) the uncles, Nathan, Uncle Felipe, Ofelia, the aunt, Bruno.

Of course, Olalla as mother replaces Stevenson’s character in the filmed version and has daughters who appear as youngsters. They grow up to be the modern Ofelia and Olalla when the narrative moves to the present time.

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The film expands on the family as a pack of depraved miscreants. In his story, Stevenson informs the reader that the mother sits in the sun against a pillar and other than brushing her hair, hasn’t “the least spark of energy.” Amy Hesketh’s take on the household presents an indolent aunt and uncles who are robotic without purpose, moving in unison with nowhere to go.

The updated Olalla does change one important element. In a nod to Stevenson’s tale, the mother indeed bites Roberto’s hand, but the impulsive act inflames the villagers and ushers in her death, as we will see.

The Vampire Question

As suggested in the first part of this analysis, the family members are not vampires in the popular sense, but they aren’t vampire-free either. It’s an in-between identity the padre defines as a collection of “strange customs.” Even their dancing at the party is zombie-like, stilted and ludicrous to the point of hilarity.

Party scene with a high angle shot.

Party scene with a high angle shot.

The family cannot determine their destiny because they are as refrigerated as the bags of blood that await their cocktail hour. They’re in a time warp that repeats itself just as the uncles are aimless and without purpose. How else could two little girls grow into young women and take a century to do it?

1505228_10151835599527882_1712782730_nOn the other hand, what of Olalla? Does she have a blood fetish, what might be considered clinical vampirism, or is she a killer whose sins her mother paid for in a sadomasochistic show compliments of the Grand Guignol?

According to Psychology Today (November 2012), the German physician Richard von Krafft-Ebing established over a century ago the connection between blood and sexuality. He cites a case in which a man allowed his wife to suck the blood from his arm before they had sex. It aroused her apparently.

Of note is that Krafft-Ebing reached this conclusion in the mid-1880s. Perhaps this is the source of Stevenson story, an account of compulsion, erotic energy, and the fear of monsters. If so, the film version of Olalla has its artistic place in literature while exploring human perversion as applicable to the social sciences.

Modern Vampires are Sexier

One more point is significant. If we assume Olalla is a vampire, she hovers between the Nosferatu genre of German Expressionism and Dracula.

Like “Nosferatu” (The Bird of Death), she bites, but her victims simply die and do not become vampires themselves. This is a departure from the Stoker model that Jac Avila uses in Dead But Dreaming.

On the other hand, Nosferatu’s  “Count Orlok” is linked to Dracula in one respect. nosferatu (1)He vanishes forever when caught in toxic sun light, whereas Dracula is only repelled by it. In either case, it’s a phenomenon that has no effect on Olalla.

So where does this leave us? Ofelia summarizes the film’s dilemma when she says to Bruno, “Olalla is a danger to all of us.”

Does this mean she is the only real vampire in the family? Or, is the brood afraid her habits will lead to the pitchfork crowd as happened with her mother?

One thing becomes painfully apparent as the film progresses. Olalla commits murder and will do it again.

Later when Ofelia interrupts her sister and Nathan watching Nosfertu, she furthers the vampire question with, “Modern vampires are sexier, don’t you think, Olalla?”

Nathan, Olalla, and Ofelia talk about vampires

Nathan, Olalla, and Ofelia talk about vampires

Nathan interjects that he and Olalla like the old version of the undead, whereupon Ofelia declares that those vampires always die “because they’re monsters who can’t control themselves.”

It’s a well-placed jab at her deviant sister.

There we have it. Olalla is like her family, caught in an in-between contradictory state (an “undead” purgatory, perhaps?) that is of the spirits and intangible and centers on evil rather than peace. And, in the end, we really don’t know if they are leftover Stoker sycophants, Count Orlok parasites struggling to survive, or simply blood freaks who are more than a little weird.

Or, perhaps they are a clan of murderers who will symbolically crucify Olalla on her bed to protect themselves . . .

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And that is exactly what links Amy Hesketh’s film to the classic enigma of Victorian literature and establishes its credentials for scholarly study.

Producers Amy Hesketh and Jac Avila

Amy Hesketh and Jac Avila are also Olalla’s producers.

 

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By the way, my interpretation of this film is just one point of view. Everyone should check it out for themselves and reach their own conclusions.

In the next post, we’ll examine time as a motif in this film.

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