Leap Year (Año Bisiesto)

Winner of the Camera d’Or award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Michael Rowe’s impressive feature debut “Leap Year” is boundary-pushing and sexually extreme, yet minimalist in scope. Set in only one room, with only three speaking parts, the film chronicles 29 days in the life of a young, dispirited Mexican woman who waits in her apartment while a string of male visitors come and go.

Twenty-five year old Laura Lopez (Mónica Del Carmen) leads a lonely existence. Living alone in her small flat, her sedentary life is established with long, drawn-out takes as she lays about, masturbates and eats cheap food straight from the tin. The only information we learn about her is gleaned from telephone calls; we discover that she is a business journalist who moved to Mexico City from rural Oaxaca. We also learn that she is a prolific liar. Talking to her mother, she describes a sumptuous feast she claims to be enjoying, when she’s really inhaling her usual cheap fare. She also tells her family about all her wonderful close friends while we can plainly see that the only contact Laura has with the outside world is a string of recreational lovers that she picks up for one-night stands a few times a week. Although Laura seems to have no goal in life, there is an ominous calendar on the wall with a date – February 29th – circled in red. The film becomes a countdown to this mysterious date.

Eventually, she is greeted by one of her many male visitors, Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez Parra). What initially begins as a few slaps during sex soon turns to more violent acts of whipping, asphyxiation, urination and cutting. But far from being upset, Laura encourages him to go further and further down this sado-masochistic path.

Far from eroticizing this behavior, Rowe depicts this perversion plainly without any romanticization. Laura’s life is shown as the desperate acts of a lonely and disturbed woman whose desire for mutilation escalates as February 29th looms closer.

A risqué sexual thriller, “Leap Year” is as indelibly intriguing as it is disturbing. [Synopsis courtesy of Diana Sanchez, Toronto International Film Festival]