A depiction of intense loneliness and psychosexual torture, Michael Rowe’s minimalist debut feature Leap Year (Año bisiesto, 2010) raises many a difficult question with regards to its seemingly complex gender politics. It follows the life of Laura, played with vulnerable perfection by Monica Del Carmen, a lonely freelance journalist who lives alone in a small Mexican apartment. After a series of one night stands she meets and sleeps with Artur, played by Gustavo Sanchez Parra. Their subsequent relationship grows increasingly violent, with Artur apparently forcing Laura into a chain of appalling, aggressive and demeaning sexual acts.
The first half of the film is pitch perfect. Rowe emphasises Laura’s loneliness beautifully, utilising the tiny confines of her apartment to provide an intimate insight into her sadness. He then goes on to further illustrate the intense nature of her desire for a partner, when we see her staring out of her window whilst masturbating, only to reveal that she is looking at couple just sitting together watching TV. Through a number of one night stands, Laura’s spiralling desperation is made all the more evident, as she is constantly rejected as soon as she tries to establish a connection after they have had sex. To this point in the film, Rowe exerts the correct amount of realism and intensity, drawing us with ease into the world of the protagonist.
However, it is upon the arrival of Artur that things begin to unravel. At first, he appears to be just another one night stand, yet he stays with Laura afterwards, showing her the attention she has so constantly craved from each of her previous encounters. He then returns for a second night, in which we see the first indications as to his violent tendencies. With each passing night that they have sex, his brutality becomes, at times, almost impossible to bear. We see scenes of rape, beating and revolting humiliation, in which Artur forces her to masturbate as he urinates on her. Although the acts are irrefutably degrading, it seems that Laura is the one to really be taking pleasure from them, eventually placing her in a position of power, with her making demands of Artur.
In spite of this, on reflection I believe the second half of Leap Year to be a piece of vile misogynist trash. No matter what Laura’s intentions may or may not be, I can find no justification for creating a ridiculously protracted scene of a woman taking pleasure from a man urinating on her. While some may argue that it is the unflinching, torturous moments which are actually at the heart of the film’s deconstruction of Artur’s character, I could find no argument to stand up against the fact that Leap Year serves only as faux-intellectual torture porn.