REVIEWED BY CHARLES LONBERGER
(Published in The Beverly Hills Outlook)
This Latinization of Bluebeard is the most successful adaptation of that fairy tale to the cinema to date, as, in it, cineaste Amy Hesketh subtly expands her thematics from her already established central concern of Control (of one being over another) to Complicity.
Hesketh primarily achieves this through her self-scripted treatment, which portrays the ironic tragedy of a man who, unable to control the compulsions that have taken control of him, seeks to assert control over others by murdering them. This concept is brought to life by the superlative interpretation of Jac Avila in the title role, which imbues a character often sketched as a mere villain with a melancholic countenance.
This Bluebeard is haunted, a serial husband with a reusable engagement ring. Rather than simply be portraying a monster, Avila conveys the tragedy of someone who has “hit bottom,” and whose sudden proposals mask an out of control control freak. But this understanding in no way minimizes the chilling way he identifies and probes for his victims, whom Hesketh depicts as generally being saved from bad situations, only to land in worse.
She sketches Courtship as Ritual, with provocative truth paints marriage as an act of “buying someone,”and uses the narrative mechanism of Discovery to link Eros, or sex, with Thantos, or death. Her dialogue co-mingles Spanish and English..
Her work as director is assured and accomplished, suggesting, in her concluding shot, that Bluebeard himself will be the final victim, a theme which dates back to the production company’s (Pachanamama Films, here in conjunction with Decadent Cinema) first film in 2005, Martyr, minus that film’s detracting melodrama. Her vision is flavored with Sternbergian wit (Jane’s request to “Just give me a minute” serves exactly the same purpose as Chang’s observation that “I’ll just be a minute” in Shanghai Express, a reference that reflects real cinematic intelligence, while gently poking fun of herself.). It is extremely intriguing to consider her choice of camera placement, when observing her omnipotent perspective of her own character’s subjugation, something which suggests a creative displacement from self.
As director, Hesketh minimizes individual personality, but emphasizes function, as she summarizes compulsion as ritual (with the same action, such as brides crawling across a bed, repeated on differing wedding nights, while symbolizing the title character’s illness).
There is also an element of exhibitionism through the personalization of her vision, as the film opens with her, as Jane, being garroted and she observes her own flagellation, excused as it is by a fictional context).
She uses the Bolivian landscape to establish isolation physically, after having familiarized us with an urban setting, which only emphasizes the isolation conducive to homicide, and, in keeping with the production company’s signature, briefly but perversely, uses Catholic iconography.
She employs primary colors (in the form of strictly color coordinated bedsheets) to great effect, and, in her depiction of a private garden becoming her own character’s final resting place, in suggesting that Jane is buried alive, which fearlessly voices the necrophiliac. Her visualization through use of a plastic bag of breath being extinguished, contains great dramatic force at the same time is appeals to yet another specialized fetish, erotic asphyxiation.
She is well served and enabled by the excellent, if reassuringly, conventionally narrative, editing of Jac Avila, which maintains a brisk and entertaining pace, his dissolves adhering to established cinematic concepts of screen time. The soundtrack of Brad Cantor and La Negra Figueroa hypnotically, if seductively, builds tension, features instrumentation by mandolin, and, while using a torch song for commentary, is strongly reminiscent of Bracelet.
The casting by Hesketh and Avila, along with Roberto Lopez, as producers, plays to the strength of each actor.
As the ill-fated Soledad, Mila Joya conveys an increasingly worried and vulnerable, if very womanly, victim, one who disobeys orders and pays the price, while, as her predecessor in death, Annabelle, Veronica Paintoux, identified by her parasol in visual shorthand, portrays death throes with disturbingly believable authenticity.
In briefer roles, as Maga, Paola Teran is quickly knifed and strangled once she puts her microphone down, while, as Agatha, Erika Saavedra gets her wish to “spend the rest of my life like this,” without realizing just how brief that life will be. She finds bedroom bondage to be “exciting (“I like this!”)” without realizing its purpose, after reaffirming the Mother and Whore dialectic within Western Culture by asking Barbazul if he prefers paintings of Huntresses or Virgins As Paul, the photographer, Erik Antoine is always irritated and difficult to please.
The roles of Barbazul’s servant, Walter, and Soledad’s sister, Ana, deserve close inspection, for, as portrayed by Roberto Lopez and Mariela Salaverry, they suggest that the slavishly servile Walter will assume the dominant function of Barbazul, once Barbazul has been dispatched by Ana, who, it is implied, will take Walter’s vacated role. What is significant in this is how closely it reflects BDSM convention, whereby the sub graduates to the Dominant role.
The most interesting role, an otherwise throwaway part, of Jane, is assumed by Hesketh herself. It is a self-portrait of the Artist as masochist, handcuffed and whipped, a fictional girl who wants to be hit “harder,” one who ends up buried beneath dirt. The assignment of this role to herself is transparent.
Mutli-dimensional, intelligent entertainment, Barbazul is distributed by Vermeerworks.