Leap Year


In “Man and Crisis”, Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish existentialist philosopher, says” man can come to such a pass that, although he must do something to live…he finds no occupation which satisfies him, nor do the matters on his material and social horizon or the ideas on his intellectual horizon move him to anything which seems satisfactory. He will go on doing this or that, but he will do it like an automaton, without achieving any sense of solidarity between himself and his acts; these acts he considers of no account, without meaning. When this happens, there surges up in him an unconquerable loathing of the world and of living, both of which seem to him to have a character which is purely negative…These men try to resolve the problem of living, that is, of treating with things and with neighbors, by reducing contact to a minimum…man,in effect reduces life and the world to a corner, to a single fragment of what it was formerly. This is simplification in the face of desperation, in the face of feeling lost in an excessive richness of life…all those appetites and possible pleasures, but none of them full and complete…he who has truly despaired feels this quality of negativity extending throughout the entire ambit of his life, with no single point in the whole span where he can make himself secure…our own period is constitutionally one of desperation..a period of disorientation. But insofar as he is disoriented, and not yet oriented, he is despairing…in these situations, man find himself facing not a whole series of ways out, but a dead end…As Spaniards say, he is between the sword and the wall…man denies his whole life except for a single point which, thus isolated, becomes exaggerated, exacerbated, exasperated. He pretends that life consists only of this, that this single point alone is important and the rest is nothing…Man who is lost in complications aspire to save himself in simplicity–a universal return to nudity, a general call rid oneself of, to retire from, to deny, all richness, complexity and abundance.” To me, this rather long passage from the Spanish philosopher, although originally meant for some other purpose, describes to a T the 4th HKIFF film I saw last night, The Leap Year.

As the film opens, we see a rather ordinary, slightly plumb dark skinned young Mexican lady shopping in another perfectly ordinary looking supermarket, goes home, returns home, talks to his mom and young brother about some trivialities, makes a telephone call to get some information to write a newspaper or magazine article and then goes to the window of her tiny dark studio flat with the barest of furniture, wall decoration, the only window of which looks into a small patio below and the window of the opposite flat. Through the slit at the corner of her cheap cloth curtain, she voyeurizes the young couple sitting intimately on a sofa. She reaches her hand to her crotch and masturbates.

She eats, she writes, she talks to her mother and her brother, she puts on make up before her dressing table, changes her dresses, goes out, picks up men, takes off her clothes once she is inside her flat and have sex with them. The men would leave whilst she is sleeping or think that she is still sleeping. She does not find out their name until after she has made love, nor does she need to know who or what they are. Neither does she care to tell them who or what she is. She picks up a young man who says he is a designer, Arturo, likes the way he makes love. The first time, he hits her butts whilst banging her. The second time, he hits her face. The third time, he belts her. The fourth time, he pisses on her. The fifth time, he burns her breast with a butt of a lit cigarette. The sixth time, he passes the blade of a knife around her neck, her breast.

The woman crosses each day of the month of February with a cross. Shortly before that, she learns that she is fired and has been promised an exploration of another position The 29th day was completely blotted out. It was the day her father died four years ago. On the previous day, she was told on the phone that she is fired but that the editor will see if he can get her another position. She tells her sadistic lover to come the following day and make love with her again and plunge the knife into her so that she can feel the blood running over her own body as he makes love to her. She tells him that she will prepare gloves for him so that no fingerprints will be left and nobody can find out who the killer is. On the following day, she puts on a white gown, places a pair of white glove on the coffee table and a knife, plus a towel and arranges them neatly into a pile. She stays a short while in front of a picture of the Holy Virgin, probably asking her to intercede for her for what she is about to do. The phone rings. It is his brother Raul. He is coming up. She quickly puts away the stuffs on the table under the bed. He enters. They embrace. He has just broken up with his girlfriend. She consoles him. He lies on her lap. She strokes his hair and shoulder. The film ends.

It is a minimalist film. Save for the first scenario, the entire film is confined to her bedroom and what goes on within. The bedroom is her uterus. It protects her egg. There the egg is born. There she finds the only activity which give meaning to her life. It is there she intends to end her life. When life is an endless routine, when the only activity which makes her feel she is still alive and therefore still human is love-making, it is surprising what some people will do. As Ortega y Gasset says, in such despair, people may then desperately try to reduce life to one single activity and hope in that single activity to be a climax of both pleasure and pain, of activity and inactivity, of life and death. Love-making has become a ritual. In the Genesis, God is said to have created the world in 6 days and on the seventh day, He rested. Perhaps the woman in the film wants to round off her life of physical pleasure the same way, an eternal rest, the rest to end all temporary deaths at the height of orgasm. Perhaps the only person she really loves is her father. That’s may be why she plans to end her life on the fourth anniversary of the day her father dies, perhaps so that she may be joined with her father in a different world. But we really do not know. We only know that she kept her father’s shaver which she uses to shave her body hair. Whatever may be the true reason she chooses to die on that anniversary, her plans are interrupted by life: the life of the only living person she truly loves and cares for, her brother. She is redeemed by her affection for her brother. A macabre film.

In this film by Michael Rowe, the only thing we learn about this 25 year-old journalist Laura, played by Monica Carmen, is that she lives in Oaxaca, Mexico, has a mother and a brother. She does not appear to have any friends. All her life she never really has any love, only love making. She longs for the kind of love which she despairs to find. Is that may be why she allows Arturo to torture her and ends her life?

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