Not to be confused with Anand Tucker's excruciatingly schmaltzy rom-com, Australian writer-director Michael Rowe's film is brutal, raw, honest and captivating. It is no surprise to me that LEAP YEAR won the Camera d'Or at Cannes this year, and of all the films that claimed to be a tough watch at this year's London Film Festival, LEAP YEAR was not just the toughest, but also the one wear that explicit sexual violence was most justified by the emotional heart of the story.
Monica del Carmen gives a stunningly brave and open performance as Laura, a provincial girl who has come to the City. She is desperate to portray herself as a successful, strong, independent woman to the people back home, but in reality she is desperately lonely and alienated from life. She spies on her neighbours, resenting their happiness, and subjects herself to humiliatingly exploitative one night stands. Except, except, as the movie progresses the twist is that it is Laura who is really exploiting the men, and one particular man in particular. Arturo becomes her regular lover. He seems a kind man, but soon rough (largely unsimulated) sex turns to extreme sexual violence. As the acts become more extreme, we learn more about Laura's motivation and her past, and come to pity both her and Arturo. There's an absolutely breathtaking scene near the end, where she is taunting him, tempting him, to do something that she wants, but that he is resisting, and we see just how much power she has over him, despite the fact that in their sexual games she is the masochist and he is the sadist.
LEAP YEAR is tour-de-force film-making - unforgettable. It goes to show that once flashy camera-work and visual effects are set aside, all you actually need are compelling characters and actors and directors willing to push themselves. But, be warned, this movie is incredibly sexually explicit, and aside from that, deals with very disturbing psychological material. I don't think it ever does this lightly or in an exploitative manner, but if tough material makes you uncomfortable, you should definitely avoid it.
LEAP YEAR / ANO BISIESTO played Cannes, where it won the Camera d'Or, London and Toronto 2010 and opened earlier this year in France and Mexico. It opened in the Netherlands and the UK in November 25th.