Leap Year (Año bisiesto), the latest entry in the growing genre of minimalist Mexican cinema, takes place almost entirely inside a dingy one-bedroom apartment. With the exception of a brief prologue, in which we observe Laura (Monica del Carmen) shopping at a grocery store and failing to catch the eye of a man she fancies, director Michael Rowe never leaves her drab, vaguely depressing flat, shooting with a static camera in long takes. We watch as Laura, a writer for a business magazine, as she interviews people over the telephone and transcribes the taped conversation. We watch as she makes herself dinner and eats in front of the TV. We watch as she calls her mother and gets a visit from her younger brother (Marco Zapata).
Most importantly, we see Laura as she gets dolled up at night and goes out to clubs, returning with a procession of men who have sex with her and then leave in a hurry. Laura seems unaware of the loneliness that is consuming her whole: In one scene, she masturbates while spying on a neighboring couple who are just sitting on the couch watching TV. Then she brings home Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez Parra), who likes to mix a little S&M into his sex. The difference between he and all the other men Laura has brought home is that Arturo comes back for seconds and thirds. Laura and Arturo share little about their lives. She tells him she hopes to be a mom someday. He tells her he wants to become an actor.
The bulk of their relationship, though, is sex, which becomes rougher and more degrading with each encounter. But Laura is so happy for the company — and for the opportunity to please her mate — that she’s willing to suffer any indignities. She derives pleasure from them. Leap Year borrows from the notorious In the Realm of the Senses (although it’s not nearly as explicit) as much as it borrows from Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dilman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (another housebound study of a lonely woman with an unusual sex life). Rowe, an Australian living in Mexico who won the Camera d’Or prize for best first film at Cannes in May, completely eschews eroticism in favor of the emotional intimacy Laura and Arturo share. Despite their lack of verbal communication, his willingness to reveal his darkest sexual impulses and her eagerness to allow him to play them out, the couple form a bond much deeper and tighter than an ordinary affair.
Near the start of Leap Year, we see Laura mark the date of Feb. 29 on her wall calendar, then watch her cross out the first date of the month. As the x-marks on the calendar multiply, and the red-lettered day approaches, we discover the importance of the date and begin to dread its inevitable arrival: We are primed for something awful. But nothing about Leap Year plays out exactly like you expect, and Rowe prefers to send you home with enigmatic questions instead of clear-cut answers. You may not fully understand Laura, but chances are you won’t be able to forget her.
Cast: Monica del Carmen, Gustavo Sanchez Parra, Marco Zapata.
Director: Michael Rowe.
Screenwriters: Michael Rowe, Lucia Carreras.
Producers: Edher Campos, Luis Salinas.
A Strand Releasing studios release. Running time: 88 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, considerable nudity, graphic sex, adult themes. Not suitable for viewers under 17. Plays Thursday Sept. 15-Sunday Sept. 18 in Miami-Dade only: O Cinema.