Theatrical Review: LEAP YEAR
Loneliness may be the single worst thing a human being can feel. As humans, we strive for interaction between one another, be that lengthy conversations or the most brief of Facebook-style interchanges about the most banal of subjects. That very concept is at the root of the new film from first time filmmaker and Cannes Film Festival award winner (Camera d’Or, 2011), Michael Rowe. Entitled ANO BISIETO (or LEAP YEAR as it is called stateside), this film festival hit is an intriguing study of isolation, both conceptually and creatively.
Not the most dense of stories, LEAP YEAR follows the tale of Laura, a 25 year old journalist, who has a weird way with men. Following some short run-ins with the opposite sex, she meets a man by the name of Arturo, and from there her life is never quite the same. As their sexual encounters rise in number, they also rise in intensity, leading to this brutal and often off-putting blend of sex and violence, leaving the audience wondering if there is really any difference between the two.
Rowe’s debut feature shows an assured hand, while also being one of the most visually muted films released in quite some time. For all intents and purposes, the film consists of nothing but still, almost still life-like shots of Laura as she goes about her day as both a writer and, more importantly, an entity existing within this brutally isolating world. The frame in which Rowe crafts his film is as isolating as the narrative itself, giving the viewer desolate still frame after desolate still frame, and when bodies merge, the result is given to the person watching the film with a deft bluntness that one can’t help but be enthralled. As the acts increase in intensity, the filmmaking doesn’t, thus leaving the viewer almost smack dab in the middle of the action, for lack of a better phrase. This almost Cronenberg-like bluntness with sexuality really makes LEAP YEAR a rather intriguing non-thriller.
However, it’s the concepts that Rowe and his co-writer Lucia Carreras touch on that are so damn interesting. A character study looking at the life of a truly lonely human being, there are tinges of commentary on the modern day, wholly superficial, relationship, as well as what happens when pain, both in the moment and manifested throughout one’s life meets sex, LEAP YEAR is a dense film. That said, the film’s density is ultimately outdone by a lack of momentum within the narrative. Best described as a short film in the body of a feature, LEAP YEAR is a bit overlong, ultimately making the film feel as though it’s dragging in the mud both narratively and conceptually. There are moments here that seem to be shocking simply for shocks sake as the story itself lacks that momentum that builds to something truly rewarding, giving LEAP YEAR this sense of being a film far longer than it actually is.
Performances, however, save the day.
Monica del Carmen stars here as Laura, and gives an amazing performance. The film as a whole is best described as a quiet film, and this quietly brooding performance fits that perfectly. LEAP YEAR is quite a slow burn, and the heat is turned up by each word, or each look, that del Carmen gives the viewer, particularly some of the lengthier monologues near the film’s conclusion. Gustavo Sanchez Parra is also great here as her lover, Arturo, giving a brooding performance that is for wholly different reasons than his co-star. aw is a word that is often overused within the critical community, but here, there isn’t a better word to use as a descriptor. From the raw nature of the frame that Rowe crafts here, to the definition of raw coming from the film’s two lead performances, the film derives this great sense of emotion from parts that don’t seem to have any right equally that very whole. Really masterful work both in front of and behind the camera.
Overall, LEAP YEAR is a far more intriguing film than one would have imagined. A Cronenberg-like erotic neo-thriller, LEAP YEAR features a pair of top-notch performances under the guidance of an up-and-coming director whose talent is far beyond his years. A low-budget film in the best of ways, this visually and narratively quiet and blunt film is a haunting mediation on sex, relationships, and the emotional state that is loneliness, and what can come of those things when they blend together. There isn’t much here to look at, but with each frame being steeped in this sense of mood and atmosphere, LEAP YEAR is a film that you’ll be hard-pressed to try and forget.