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Justine (2016)
Finally, THE definitive film version of the Marquis DeSade's JUSTINE.
27 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Jac Avila has created a definitive film version of the Marquis DeSade's JUSTINE. The film, based on DeSade's famous novel about the misfortunes of virtue, is in my opinion true to the book's spirit and content in a way no other version has ever been.

If, hearing this is a film of DeSade's JUSTINE, you expect "sadistic" scenes of beautiful women subjected to whippings and other torturous ordeals, Avila's JUSTINE pulls no punches and will fulfill your expectations. But you can also approach this movie hungry for a refreshing tour de force of artistic filmmaking and have your desires fulfilled.

Avila opens JUSTINE with a startling close-up of Justine's face, beautiful and innocent, but with a haunted look in her eyes that suggests she has already been through more horrors than we can imagine and knows the worst is probably yet to come. Amy Hesketh achieves this effect by looking straight at you in a certain way that has to be experienced to be understood.

In the background we hear the ominous pounding of military drums, which immediately, given the situation, brought to my mind the "March to the Scaffold" in that great French symphony by Berlioz, SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE. And it was an appropriate association to make, for within moments, poor Justine is dragged away, bound in an X between two pillars, and mercilessly flogged, helplessly naked before a crowd of soldiers and elegantly dressed aristocrats. And, of course, this is only the beginning of what is to come.

Hesketh again, as in other films, such as Avila's relentlessly realistic historical horror of Inquisitional terror, MALEFICARUM, pushes her art above and beyond to achieve another deeply sympathetic and totally convincing performance. Needless to say, there are no "mambo breaks" for her in JUSTINE, referring to the delightful Vampire Mambo sequence in OLALLA, the innovative and persuasively effective Vampire film she recently directed (available, as is JUSTINE, from Vermeerworks.com).

JUSTINE's music, sets, casting, costuming, lighting, editing, and all the other intricate and vital aspects of quality filmmaking and behind the scenes production activities are all quite excellent to my mind, but because I am a writer, I especially appreciated the writing.

The dialogue has a proper historic quality without being so authentic that modern ears might have trouble keeping up. This is a tricky effect to pull off, I guarantee, but JUSTINE does it with style. I especially enjoyed the narrative remarks spoken directly, from time to time, to the viewer by Justine, a technique that could have detached the audience from their involvement in the story if handled by a lesser filmmaker than Avila and spoken by a lesser actor than Hesketh.

Bottom line, if you have read DeSade's novel then watched Avila's JUSTINE, you might be tempted to believe Avila either employed necromancy to resurrect the corpse of the Marquis long enough to write the screenplay, or that Avila took dictation from DeSade's ghost.

I wish I had a time machine back to 1930s Paris and could screen Avila's JUSTINE for the founders of the Surrealist movement, the poets, philosophers, filmmakers, and artists. Many fans of DeSade's writing and challenging philosophy do not realize how important he was to the Surrealists.

DeSade was plumbing the forbidden depths of the subconscious long before Freud, and the subconscious is where many dreams are spawned. Dream imagery as a key to unearthing hidden psychological urges was an important theme of surrealist expression. To the surrealists, DeSade was an explorer of forbidden themes and a foe of religious and societal hypocrisy.

Consider this in connection with Avila's JUSTINE. According to SURREALISM: PERMANENT REVELATION by Cardinal and Short, the surrealists valued DeSade "…for his lucid exploration of man's darkest instincts." Avila's film also explores those instincts, in spades.

From THE HISTORY OF SURREALIST PAINTING by Marcel Jean, we are told that Luis Buñuel's film, L'AGE D'OR (AGE OF GOLD), includes the Comte de Blangis, Sade's protagonist in 120 DAYS OF SODOME, appearing as Jesus Christ, and the last image in the film is of a crucifix to which several women's scalps are nailed. Avila's last scene of surreal sadism in his JUSTINE, however, takes Buñuel's climactic image to another level entirely.

As for the surreal life-death, eros-thanatos juxtapositions in DeSade's novel and Avila's film, DEATH AND SENSUALITY: A STUDY OF EROTICISM AND THE TABOO by Georges Bataille says, in a chapter on DeSade, "Life, he maintained, was the pursuit of pleasure, and the degree of pleasure was in direct ratio to the destruction of life. In other words, life reached its highest intensity in a monstrous denial of its own principle." And with Avila's JUSTINE, this surreal theme is definitively expressed.

So, yes, I enthusiastically recommend Jac Avila's JUSTINE. I believe that the Divine Marquis would approve of its challenging, morality- twisting philosophy and scenes of well-whipped flesh. I think that Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali would applaud its surreal juxtapositions of potent imagery. And I feel that filmmakers can study and learn from Avila's masterful new film for years to come.

But most importantly, ordinary blokes like me can just be entertained, gawk in wonder, and cheer. The right person has finally created a film version of JUSTINE that brings DeSade's book to uncompromising, throbbing life.
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Olalla (2015)
10/10
Vampires and blood, love and sexual tension, but wait, there's also Mambo!
5 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Amy Hesketh is the writer, director, and star of OLALLA, in which she has created a Vampire film like no other, because Olalla is a Vampire like no other. The movie thumbs its nose at almost every establishment Vampire tradition. No Danse Macabre for these Vampires. No. But there is Mambo! No sucking of blood from neat little puncture wounds on the throat. But there is chilled blood in the fridge sipped from fine crystal. Or, if you're Olalla, the black sheep of the clan, you occasionally do it the old fashioned way, rip out the throats of your victims, and leave a bloody mess.

You don't have to be a non-conformist Vampire to identify with Olalla. There's a little Olalla in all of us. With its roots in a story by Robert Louis Stevenson ("Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"), Olalla is portrayed with a sly undercurrent of self-deceptive innocence by Hesketh herself. She yearns to be an ordinary woman and go shopping, but she does not have "ordinary" in her blood. She tries but cannot long stand to pretend, like the rest of her family does, not even after the repeated encouragements of a skillfully applied riding crop, wielded by the family's dedicated enforcer, Felipe, played with exquisite intensity by Jac Avila.

Felipe is convincingly and sympathetically portrayed in flashbacks as Avila's younger self by Alejandro Loayza. He has worried about Olalla's well-being, and that of his family, since childhood (these "genetic" Vampires age, but slowly). Felipe's sense of responsibility for his family's wellbeing is a heavy burden, especially considering what happened to Olalla's mother (played in heart-wrenching flashbacks by Hesketh herself).

Olalla's sister, Ofelia, cares about the family, too, and is fed up with her sister's antics, endangering them all. Ofelia remembers all too well what happened to their mother. Mila Joya plays Ofelia as a playfully seductive predator, with a subtle undercurrent that made me wonder just how many throats she herself had ripped out, in secret.

Other fascinating characters include the family's two uncles, played in synchronized precision by Beto Lopez and Fermin Nuñez, and then there is Erix Antoine's unforgettable Bruno.

All in all, I recommend OLALLA for anyone who enjoys Vampire films that take you where Vampire films have never gone before. Plus, don't forget, not only is there blood and Vampires in Olalla, there's Mambo!
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10/10
Jac Avila's Dead but Dreaming does for Vampire Films what Coppola's Apocalypse Now did for War Movies
17 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Jac Avila's Dead but Dreaming does for Vampire Films what Coppola's Apocalypse Now did for War Movies...transforms entertaining and traditionally horrific stories into beautiful works of epic art. I liked this film because it was not like any other Vampire Film I've ever seen, and I've seen bunches. I enjoyed my first Vampire film before age ten, scared me silly, gave me nightmares afterward. So, of course, I needed to know more. I read books! Stoker's Dracula, Matheson's I Am Legend, Sturgeon's Some of Your Blood, Ornella Volta's The Vampire, Bernard J. Hurwood's Terror by Night, McNally's and Florescue's In Search of Dracula, on and on, until finally, not satisfied with any explanation about how Dracula became a Vampire, I wrote a novel to explain it, I Am Dracula, published in 1983. I say all this to explain that I'm not just a fresh off the street Vampire fancier, in the hopes it will add weight to my opinion about Avila's Dead but Dreaming.

DBD is an entertaining film for many reasons, and your reasons will probably differ from mine. But for me, I appreciated the way the movie kept surprising me. Avila's serious yet playful Vampires enthralled me with their originality. I would ordinarily assume a filmmaker who "got it wrong," with regard to Vampire traditions in film, simply didn't know what he was doing. But the way Avila handled breaking the rules came across instead as if maybe he knew a secret truth and got it right while everyone else got it wrong, because Avila's Vampires helped me regain that otherworldly feeling I associated with Vampires when I started studying them as a kid.

The acting by Amy Hesketh, recently featured in Fangoria, Victoria Paintoux, Mila Joya, and Avila himself as a kind of Vampire God, are all quite suitably creepy and excellent. The dialog, at times grimly humorous, as between Hesketh and Paintoux following Hesketh's pre-execution flogging, was slapping your leg and barking an unexpected laugh, delightful.

This was the first Vampire film ever made in Bolivia, by the way. Some of the magnificent Bolivian vistas took me back to the sweeping landscapes in my favorite Leone western, Once Upon a Time in the West. But this will not be Bolivia's last Vampire film. Avila has announced plans for Dead but Dreaming to be but the first of a trilogy about his Vampires. And Hesketh is already shooting her own movie in Bolivia about a family of Vampires, Olalla, based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story. Maybe La Paz will become the Center for Creative Vampire Entertainments. Or, after Dead but Dreaming, maybe it already is!
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Maleficarum (2011)
10/10
From an important director to watch, unforgettable horror with a point, because it's real...real history.
26 February 2013
MALEFICARUM was more than I had expected. Jac Avila, the director, has made an unforgettable and important film. The actors, especially Amy Hesketh and Mila Joya, totally sold it. Avila's direction and the women's performances made their plight horribly believable, completely real, and yet heroic. Several scenes are going to keep replaying in my mind. Having the Inquisition torture scenes interrupted by the "reality show" testimonies (based on real witness documents from the historic case upon which the film is based), kept me from becoming numb to the brutality of what was happening. If the director feels as I do about the insanity of the Inquisition, he drove that message straight to the heart. But incredibly, this is also a love story, defiant love facing hopeless horror. And because this is real life historical horror, you can't squirm out of it with that "it's only a movie" schtick. It's even made to feel like a documentary of sorts, and in my opinion, this is as real as a film about this subject can get. All praise to everyone involved for their determination to make it that way. This film does not pull its punches or make excuses. Avila is an important director, folks. Believe it.
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Bluebeard (2012)
10/10
Amy Hesketh's BARBAZUL is an effective horror film of great style and insight that would give Hannibal Lecter the creeps!
12 February 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Based upon the classic serial killer horror of Bluebeard, BARBAZUL presents a new and chillingly effective original version of the tale. Jac Avila skillfully plays Barbazul/Bluebeard with a charming sophistication that seduces innocent and worldly victims alike. As the advertising promo for the film says, he loves women, he just can't stop killing them. And some of those murders in the film are written, staged, and directed by Hesketh in such a way that they crawled under my horror movie radar and jumped me from the inside. I have seen so many scary movies, but the kind that play it easy, using gore and jump-out-at-you scenes, fade as soon as the film is through. Others, like the suspense classics of Hitchcock or the shadowy mood pieces produced by Val Lewton, slip up on you and instead of making you react by looking away, keep you watching, even when it begins to feel like you are intruding on something very private that you would really rather not see. But then it's too late. You saw. It's in your mind. And it keeps coming back to you at odd moments the next day, and afterward. It is obvious Hesketh impressed me, again.

Each of her films thus far, Le Marquis de la Croix and Sirwiñakuy, have been a unique and strong example of how entertaining artistic films that break the mold and defy convention can be. Being a writer myself, of course I credit the way Hesketh creates the underlying story with how effective the work becomes. And her character in BARBAZUL is a writer whose demise is every writer's nightmare! "Come on, just give me another minute to finish this, I'm almost done, just a moment more, don't interrupt me right now, come back later, let me finish!" It is a diabolical scene for a writer to watch. But at least, all of us who have been interrupted while trying to write do not, hopefully, have happen to us what Hesketh has happen to her character! And then, of course, it gets worse.

All of the actors turn in excellent performances. Jac Avila's stylish interpretation of Bluebeard was aristocratic and cultured even as the sociopath within him does cold-blooded Evil, reminding me of Vincent Price's best performances. Roberto Lopez's Walter is one of the creepiest butlers on film, sinister without being overt, very subtle and effective, one of those "there's something wrong here but nothing I can put my finger on so it's probably just my imagination, but--" kind of things...if there were an anti-Batman, this is the anti-Alfred,or even more, "Klove" in the second Christopher Lee Dracula film Hammer Films made, Dracula Prince of Darkness. Come tothink of it, this could almost have been Bluebeard Prince of Darkness! The ride to get to Barbazul's plantation (castle) over the twisting, turning road (like the one leading to Castle Dracula) emphasizes how far from any kind of help the women he takes there are. And the countryside through which the road passed reminded me of the beautiful, vast emptiness of the high desert of Northern Arizona where I once lived. Mila Joya's innocent and noble character totally sells her growing unease and alarm as she becomes more and more aware that she has been trapped by a monster (like Jonathan Harker in Castle Dracula!--and it just occurred to me that Hesketh's Dracula, if she ever chooses to do one, might finally nail Stoker's classic better than anyone ever has...). Another "victim," convincingly portrayed by Veronica Paintoux as an aggressive and worldly counterpart to Joya's character's helpless innocence, makes you believe she can damn-well take care of herself, which makes it even worse, for her, when she suddenly discovers that, no, not really, she can't handle Barbazul, either.

Original music by Brad Cantor and La Negra Figueroa added just the right touch to the film, reminding me, somewhat, in the best way of a Goblin score for an Argento classic. Finally, "Superb" does not really do this film justice. "Eros and Thanatos" writ large might be a better description, "Sex and Death," "Beauty and Horror," like the face of the great Barbara Steele's "Muriel" at the end of NIGHTMARE CASTLE, or the visage of the Norse Goddess Hel, half beautiful and seductively alive, half dead and nightmarishly decayed. In BARBAZUL, you can't have one without the other, see? As if you'd want to, right? And one extra bonus--if you happen to have seen Richard Burton's portrayal of Bluebeard in that famous old film, Jac Avila will finally make Burton's face stop flashing into your mind at the mention of the name, "Bluebeard." So, in addition to this great new film, thank you, Amy and Jac, for that!
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10/10
Amy Hesketh creates pull-no-punches art undared by ordinary filmmakers.
15 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Amy Hesketh's Le Marquis de la Croix impressed me on many levels. Her extraordinary, pull no punches approach to filmmaking creates stories the timid would never dare and the ordinary could never conceive.

Le Marquis de la Croix captures a pure essence of the Marquis DeSade's defiant, revolutionary writings. Its challenging subtexts worked subconscious magic to remind me both of a personal experience of death and the disturbingly innocent opening scene in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch where "innocent" children gleefully torture a scorpion.

Hesketh gives the reality of a single death more potent impact than a hundred slash and burn action film deaths shown in forget-'em quick video cuts, sudden, violent, and gone. Yes, prolonged violence in the form of torture causes death in Le Marquis de la Croix, but that death is shown to be defiantly slow in coming. It forces viewers to realize that, given the chance, Life makes Death work hard for its victory, the way I remember death coming to a friend at whose bedside I once waited.

Jac Avila's chilling performance as the Marquis makes clear the imprisoned aristocrat's clinical detachment as he scientifically records his observations of the young woman's suffering. But in contrast, Avila also drives home the intimate involvement of a torturer with his victim.

Mila Joya's Zinga is poignantly believable as the helpless victim whose initial hope that she can escape public execution by surviving the Marquis' private depredations slowly fades, forcing her to reluctantly accept that death alone awaits her, an end to all her hopes and dreams, an outcome not unlike that of the doomed protagonist at the end of DeSade's Justine.

Another nice touch is Hesketh's selection of background music, including the ironic choice of an historical chant-song voiced by revolutionary French peasant-citizens while they executed aristocrats—as the sadistic aristocrat in her film executes his peasant-victim.

But wait! There's more! Hesketh adds a wonderful and unexpected Twilight Zone ending that would make Rod Serling proud. In an IMDb review of Hesketh's film, Sirwiñakuy, I compared her direction to Hitchcock's, who famously appeared in cameos in his films. Hesketh does more than a mere cameo in Le Marquis de la Croix. Her performance in the framing sequences at the beginning, middle, and end makes dear Uncle Alfred's cameos pale by comparison and zaps viewers with a viewpoint revelation, casting the entire cinematic narration into an unexpected context.

Then, too, there is a commentary track by Hesketh and Avila that you can activate, containing fascinating, informative, and entertaining information.

I have no idea what Amy Hesketh is going to create next, but folks, if you've got any sense left at all, you'll fight me for first place in line to see!
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10/10
The Fascination of Fear versus the Beauty of Horror
17 November 2012
I found Jac Avila's film, Martyr or the Death of Saint Eulalia, beautifully photographed and powerfully compelling on many levels. His use of historical images of female martyrdom merged with contemporary reenactments to bring potent reality to past horrors and historical validation to what could have, in lesser hands, become mere exploitation. The film's interesting and identifiable characters drew me in, a fascinating plot and challenging ideas kept me hooked, then the outcome twisted me around, leaving me staring at myself as if in a mirror. I remember feeling similar emotions while watching Polanski's Repulsion for the first time. The two films bear little outward resemblance, except that both involve an inner journey. Catherine Deneuve's character in Repulsion, however, is headed in the opposite direction from Carmen Paintoux's character in Martyr. Deneuve's character is dissolving before your eyes, but Paintoux's is, while seemingly headed in a dangerous direction, in my view heroically pulling herself together by defying her inner coward and embracing urges she had previously avoided, because the more her flesh was tied and tormented, the freer and stronger her spirit somehow became. Both films, however, produced in me a growing fear for the end toward which each woman was headed. How Avila resolved his story was more unexpected than Polanski's and produced a lingering power that sent me back for subsequent viewings, during which I experienced additional discoveries. I was told by someone whose opinion I respect that this film had the power to change their life. Will it change yours? Give it a try! And then proceed to Avila's Maleficarum. It has the power to change lives, too!
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Sirwiñakuy (2010)
10/10
Is Amy Hesketh the next Hitchcock? Truffaut? Bigelow? No! Better than that!
8 November 2012
Amy Hesketh and Alfred Hitchcock have the same initials. Coincidence? Yes, of course, and yet… The great French Director, François Truffaut, was a great admirer of Hitchcock, and there is a bit of Truffaut in Hesketh's work as well, but… her Sirwiñakuy is a beautiful film that neither Hitchcock nor Truffaut (nor even Kathryn Bigelow) could have made, because it is pure Hesketh. I kept asking myself as I watched it, how could this be her first film as a director? It seemed to be the work of a seasoned veteran. It took mundane scenes that should have bored me and somehow made me want to watch and find out where it was going next, because it was obviously, from the first, oddly turned, just enough, to keep me off balance and unsure of what was going to happen next. A car ride begins to remind me, for no obvious reason, of Jonathan Harker's ride to Castle Dracula, leaving a known world for the possibly dangerous unknown. A walk up a simple staircase turns into, without any obvious visual signals or threatening musical hints, the walk up the determinedly sinister stairs in the Psycho house where Norman Bates might wait at the top… or is Norman the man walking up the stairs, or even the woman with him? Or none of the above? See what I mean? It kept me guessing, and in the end, all of the trite stereotypes I'd imagined were blown away by what really happened. So, while I don't want to give anything specific away by describing particulars, I will say that if you like suspense mixed with unusual, non-sentimental romance, featuring expert performances by Jac Avila and Veronica Paintoux (and Chuqui the Cat), and a plot that should keep you guessing up to the very last moment, give Amy Hesketh's Sirwiñakuy a look, and then follow it with Hesketh's subsequent work. I can guarantee with almost 100 percent certainty that she will not ever pull her punches on you, won't leave you feeling cheated. And in the best showbiz tradition, I suspect her films, now and in the future, are always going to leave you wanting more!
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