by Rich Moreland, September 2016
Determining a magnum opus for any artist is a moving target. For Amy Hesketh, her definitive film is yet to be settled upon, though reviews of Olalla (2015) and La Marquis de la Croix (2012) suggest they are leading contenders.
However, Barbazul cannot be ignored. In fact, it may be better than all her films because of the deep psychological interplay within Bluebeard’s personality that creates the duality of character and killer.
Amy’s production is more than an “art film” or a melodrama designed to shock because the story speaks to our interpersonal relationships and the miseries they can cause. The fear of rejection and the pleasure of revenge . . . if just as a fantasy to even the score . . . haunts all of us.
Mop and Pail
“A few kisses in the night are not the end of the world,” Maga croons.
With a highly sexualized demeanor and eyes that promise attention, she’s smooth and silky. Spotting Bluebeard across the room, Maga casts her line. The band takes a break; they hook up instantly.
Later on a picnic, Bluebeard and Maga play a game: label the wine with a band. He suggests Led Zepplin (Stairway to Heaven, perhaps?); she counters with the Sex Pistols (Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, anyone?)
In a seemingly frivolous moment, Bluebeard says, “Enjoy your time here while it lasts.”
In other words, this is just a diversion, a fling, as Maga’s song tells us.
The singer likes the plantation as one would the Copacabana during a winter escape. But she must go back to the city, musical commitments to fulfill, you know. Bluebeard will have none of that and drives a knife into her gut while she dresses, an unexpected surprise.
Incredulous, the entertainer stumbles onto the porch. Bluebeard casually places the knife on the dresser, puts his hands in his pockets, and follows her. In a well shot scene, Maga’s unintended version of crawling undoubtedly amuses Bluebeard.
The blood flows.
He finishes her with the scarf.
Walter gets the mop, pail, and towels.
Maga is a nod to a frivolous side of Bluebeard’s personality he considers hardly worth a mention. There is no sex scene and no nudity . . . sort of, Bluebeard lets the blade relish the flesh.
Like Maga, it’s just a silly kiss in the night.
The next stop is a museum. By chance, Bluebeard meets the lady in red, Agata. The theme is huntress versus The Virgin as displayed in the artwork that winds its way around their conversation. She asks for his preference, prepared to offer him both. Her demise is a cruel joke because she is no Madonna and hardly a Diana.
Agata is the hunted from the beginning.
When they first have sex, Agata extends her arms in a crucifixion position as Bluebeard pumps away. Her expression exudes pain with ecstasy.
In an overhead shot, burning candles are on both side tables. The scene has a religious overtone with the sex ritualistic in nature, a blend of ancient paganism and the emergence of the Church.
By the way, Agata is never totally nude, red sheets cover her from mid-torso down (is the blood of redemption everywhere?). Nakedness is a measure of a woman’s sexual arousal to Bluebeard and we see Agata and Maga as minimized and easily dismissed.
At dinner, Agata makes it clear that life on the plantation suits her and she intends to stay, but she has no use for Walter. Her fawning bores Bluebeard. When he picks up bread from his plate, she puts her hand over his in a gesture of control. His body language tells all; he leans away.
On her death night, Agata’s head is at the foot of the bed. Bluebeard comes over and ties her arms in a spread-eagled position. Forever the fool, she thinks it’s exciting, but her expression soon turns to desperation.
He strangles her in a metaphorical upside down crucifixion position that reminds the viewer of the death of St. Peter who regarded himself vastly inferior to Christ.
Certainly Agata is unworthy of Annabelle the film suggests, tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Is this Bluebeard’s attempt to reconcile his spiritual side with his Jekyll and Hyde contradiction?
After Agata’s last breath, Bluebeard puts on his slippers and walks out of the room, leaving the mess behind for Walter, we assume.
Maga and Agata are stopovers that prepare Bluebeard to confront the abyss of his most highly sexualized shadow: his sadism. After that, he will search for solitude (Soledad) as his companion . . .
But first we move to a randy scenario that is a salute to wit and dark humor: Jane.
In a playful nod to her early modeling career and eventual transition into filmmaking, Amy Hesketh casts herself as Bluebeard’s next victim. Wearing the pink polka-dotted dress that hangs last in line in the plantation office, she’s sitting on a park bench, notebook in hand, smoking a cigarillo.
Bluebeard slips next to her and inquires as to what she is writing.
She introduces herself.
He knows her from her photos, he says, and repeats his question.
“My next book,” she answers.
“Another one of your famous erotic S & M tales?”
Offering his hand, he says, “Bluebeard.”
“Barbazul,” he repeats, “like the fairytale.”
Is she interested in drink?
“I only date fictional characters,” she whimsically replies.
“Do fairytale characters count,” he asks.
Jane smiles, “I guess.”
It’s the moment that breaks the fourth wall and lets the viewer in on the game.
There are no preliminaries with Jane. She is in control of her fantasies and has minimal interest in yielding to the whims of others if they don’t match hers.
The tone of their relationship is immediate. She will use Bluebeard as easily as he believes he is using her.
Jane, like Amy Hesketh I suspect, is a feminist.
In a garden setting Jane is at work, pen in hand; a cigarillo dangles from her lips. Bluebeard looks around the corner and asks if she is “coming” (well, not yet, she needs a well-delivered preliminary activity!).
The writer smiles, puts down her notebook and grabs the upper support of the arbor with both hands, stretching out her arms.
“Wanna to do it here?”
With Jane there’s more to dangling than a smoke.
“I’m more traditional,” he says, removing her cigarillo. They walk off arm-in-arm. Bare-legged she’s wearing thin panties and heeled espadrilles that promise all that is raw and raunchy.
In the bedroom, the Jane digs out handcuffs and a whip from under the pillows and gives them to Bluebeard. She knows what she likes in a scene that is classic Amy Hesketh.
When her working over begins, Jane grimaces and says, “harder.” The sex that follows is as nasty as her salacious novels, but that suits the S&M author just fine.
Later Bluebeard approaches her at night in the garden where she is again writing. He’s brought her toys, he says. She puts him off momentarily.
Breaking the tried and true rule that everything is consensual in BDSM play, an annoyed Bluebeard ignores her. Amy Hesketh is now in her favorite role, the victim punished for her tormentor’s pleasure.
He binds her, arms extended, and tears away her clothing. Crying, she begs him to stop. The extended whipping scene is topped off with a garrotting.
One more shadow is put to rest, this time more formally with an execution-like conclusion. In a bodacious performance, Amy Hesketh salutes the Grand Guignol’s legendary Paula Maxa.
Walter appears with shovels and clear plastic wrap. In a particular gruesome scene that features a mummification fetish, Jane awakens, verifying a traditional fear that has haunted civilization from its beginning.
But that is only part of the scene’s importance. Bluebeard can never put to rest his sexual aggression and the blood that flows from it. Even solitude will not satisfy him.
Somewhere deep within his past and his inner self, it became a part of who he is that cannot be suffocated. Simply put, our sexuality is never extricated or disentangled from who we are, no matter our fetishes or proclivities.
Of all the scenes Amy Hesketh and Jac Avila have played together, this is among the best. It speaks to the heart of their cinematic collaboration.
There’s more to come as the story reverts to Soledad and Bluebeard’s return to the plantation with her sister Ana. But, that’s not for here. Buy this film and see the bizarre conclusion for yourself.
What to Make of this Film
Amy Hesketh’s version of Bluebeard is hard to pin down. Is he a misogynist or a serial killer or both? Perhaps he is just a man whose warped view of all women was triggered by the one woman who toyed with his emotions?
Or does Bluebeard suffer from a personality disorder in which attachments and emotional bonds are weak but ephemeral relationships easy to form? Does he get off on manipulating and exploiting women until ennui sets in? Is he afraid of his own sexuality in such a way as to self-emasculate, leaving violence in the place of real affection?
On the other hand, perhaps Bluebeard hides his inability to “feel” under a thin veneer of infatuation. He fears rejection and offs his women to keep them around, the ultimate expression of aggression and control.
In the Jungian sense, however, each of Bluebeard’s victims represents an insatiable part of his sexual self that Bluebeard must cast away to reach his core: his prepubescent innocence.
Take a look: Annabelle is the beautiful, unattainable, and the ultimate put down; Soledad is the submissive and pliant; Maga is the cheap trick and Agata the disdain for the morally righteous.
But Jane is Bluebeard’s emotional Dracula, the raw sexual aggression that lives eternally in every male, overwhelmingly desirable and uncontrollably demanding.
In the end, misogyny is not the villain of this story as it is with Charles Perrault’s fairy tale, nor are Bluebeard’s paraphilias to blame for his actions.
Rather, the malefactor is anger and rejection driven by an immature sexuality that objectives women, an all too common malady among men.
Incidentally, during the film I thought the best place to conceal the bodies would be in the casks of wine. Perhaps now we know what the dead mouse was trying to tell Annabelle when she walked by it . . .
* * *
Congratulations to Amy Hesketh for a provocative and dark interpretation of a long-recorded tale.
Barbazul is a film that begs to be seen again and again.