Sex in Guadalajara – FICG in LA
Article by Ray Schillaci
The TLC Chinese Theater played host to the FICG in LA last week. FICG is an extension of the Guadalajara Film Festival. The festival is designed to invite people to explore “the diverse regional narratives of Mexican and Ibero-America cinema, and to help critically acclaimed films from these regions reach a wider audience.” I happened to catch an award-winning short film, Morning After, produced, directed and edited by Patricia Chica. The feature film accompanying Chica’s short subject was an award-winning movie from Puerto Rico, Columbia, directed and co-written by Fernando Vallejo taken from Hector Abad Faciolince’s best-selling novel that was based on One Thousand and One Nights.
Both films complimented each other as tales involving the exploration of sexuality and sensuality, although Chica’s film was a sensitive and thoughtful piece of work that concentrated more on the “fluidity” of sexuality in the Millennial generation rather than a “coming out”, as some may simplify the content. Where as, Vallejo’s tale was an extremely sensuous, highly sexually charged, and artistic tale that was geared for a mature and open-minded audience. Both had their flaws, but their unique visions had this critic overlook them.
Patricia Chica has had a diverse career in the business. She’s been involved in the pre-production, production and post production side. In front and behind the camera she continues to display her diversity in cinema, and each project gives us something to look forward to. And her latest did not disappoint.
Morning After presents five friends drinking and having a good time when one of them, the sensuous-looking Dana, suggests playing an unusual take on spin-the-bottle, but it’s with a tray of delicious looking chocolates and French kissing. This is with three men and two women. In the sense of good fun, all comply, but Michael, who has been away from the group, is hesitant. It should also be known that Michael appears to be the straight guy in the group.
As the kissing begins, we witness not only Michael’s excitement of the two girls tasting the chocolates from their kiss and describing what they’ve passed onto one another (caramel, white chocolate, etc), but his uncomfortable feelings of arousal over his two gay friends. The sensuous game nearly becomes too much for him, and he excuses himself for a bathroom break where his pretty girlfriend, Teegan, takes the opportunity to sneak in and nearly break into a lovemaking session until interrupted.
What it all leads up to is not only friends getting reacquainted, but a near innocent awakening of sexual exploration. Director Chica and writer/actor Kristian Hodko concentrate on not only the innocence of it all, but the release of sexual labels and boundaries, eradicating any suggestion of shame or deviance. The director’s style is relaxed, and disarms the viewer. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the writing that comes across a little stilted in the beginning with an awkward voiceover introduction of the members of the party. But, as the film progresses, Chica’s direction and Dop Martin Bouchard’s cinematography overpowers those flaws.
Morning After is handsomely mounted, and Chica acquired a good looking and talented cast that comes across quite natural. Although Michael, played with great conviction by Thomas Vallieres, is our main character, it is Jordana Lajoie that steals every scene. The young woman oozes sensuality with every look and move. She brings to mind some of the great women of classic cinema that men have fawned over for years – Bridget Bardot and Gina Lollobrigida. The camera and audience can’t help but be held captive by her presence. And, it is the combination of Patricia Chica’s directing, and Jordana Lajoie screen presence that makes this film worth catching.
As for the feature, Fragmentos de Amor (Fragments of Love), director/co-writer Fernando Vallejo and his team of writers deliver what could be a very simple love story involving betrayal, jealousy, and obsession, and turn it on its ear with a near confusing, but intriguing style that holds our attention while throwing interesting ideas at us that do not always work, but remain fascinating none the less. A woman shares stories of her past lovers to her latest affair, a man who was devastated over his last love. To complicate things, she is engaged to his best friend. As time goes on, she breaks up with her fiancé, and insists that her newest lover is the love of her life. He questions her requited love as she continues on relaying the “fragments” of her sex life. He cannot help but wonder if he will eventually be just another fragment as well.
Vallejo and his team of writers have an interesting and steamy enough story with their unstable and fickle character, Susana, who appears to fall in love easily and eventually gets bored, but always looks back in the past, relishing her sexual exploits. Of course, this is a doomsday call for Isaias, who is an angst-ridden budding composer/pianist who is also a piano tuner by trade. His confidence has been decimated since the loss of his last love to the point he is sexually stunted, that is until he meets his good friend’s fiancé.
Sadly, Isaias best friend, Rodrigo is terribly underwritten. His character is practically a tool to be used for a reason for the betrayal. There is no depth in the relationship of the two friends or the engaged couple. All the effort is put into Susana and her past lovers with Isaias nearly getting the short end of the stick as well. But, actor Alfredo De Quesada as Isaias rises above his material nicely, delivering frustration, pain, and a new passion.
Angelica Blandon as Susana is a conundrum of sorts. With her innocent fresh looks, and her slightly kinky sensuous side, Blandon gives a complicated performance that engages and angers us at the same time. We fall in love with her just like Isaias does, and then do not trust the ease with which she relays her sexual stories. They are fun at first, enticing, but eventually become annoying. And, every one of her lovers is so entertainingly written that we wish as much effort was put into a more cohesive storyline.
Director Vallejo lingers on the highly charged sex scenes between Susana and her new lover, and they are not for the prudish. They’re sensual, poetic, and highly erotic, much like Susana herself. Vallejo also infuses the unrest in Puerto Rico with violence and bombings and this is symbolic of Susana’s sexuality – always on the brink, ready to explode.
Vallejo’s film is filled with wondrous ideas, but some fall terribly flat. The worst being a very unusual reveal of Susana’s character towards the end. It has its artistic merit. It’s fascinating to no end, but it has no place in the movie we’ve been watching. It’s like putting that square peg in a round hole with the entire ending feeling cheap and unsatisfying. But, the sensual poetic journey Vallejo takes us on with Susana, and nearly all her lovers, makes up for the blemishes on this portrayal of sex, obsession, and the death of love.
Currently, Fragmentos de Amor (Fragments of Love) is on DVD, and available at Amazon and Netflix. Morning After can be seen at nearly a dozen film festivals including Image+Nation in Montreal in November, Feedback Film and Screenplay Film Festival in L.A, Dec. 7, and Cine Fest in L.A, Jan. 14. And, a work-in-progress documentary of the making of Chica’s film is available on VIMEO.