Movie review: ‘Leap Year’

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The deeply unsettling, psychologically acute “Leap Year” (Ano Bisiesto) won writer-director Michael Rowe, an Australian living in Mexico, Cannes’ Camera d’Or prize for best first feature.

Lowe and his co-writer Lucia Carreras wisely take their time establishing the character of Laura (Monica Del Carmen), a freelance journalist living and working in a Mexico City apartment. Laura is dark-skinned, pretty and desperately lonely; the sight of the uninhibited young couple across the way fills her with longing.

Most every night she hits up the bars and brings home a man for what invariably proves to be a one-night stand — until she connects with Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez Parra) at her most vulnerable. Arturo, a lean, good-looking aspiring actor, proves an aggressive lover, and Laura responds so strongly that he’s eager for more. What ensues is a series of graphic, increasingly intense sadomasochistic encounters that brings a dark secret within Laura to the surface.

“Leap Year” recalls Nagisa Oshima’s controversial “In the Realm of the Senses,” but Rowe heads in a different direction, subtly playing up the social and political implications of the story. It’s not for nothing that Laura looks indigenous while Arturo appears to be Spanish, but then appearances are not necessarily what they seem in this picture.


Not only must Lowe have inspired great commitment on the part of his actors, his trust in the visual power of the image is made evident by his decision to shoot almost entirely on a single set.

“Leap Year” might be too much for some audiences, but it is a potent and surprising work.

“Leap Year.” No MPAA rating. In Spanish, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. At the Sunset 5.