A lonely Mexican woman with some major intimacy issues goes on a one-month sex spree in "Leap Year."

A lonely Mexican woman with some major intimacy issues goes on a one-month sex spree in “Leap Year,” Michael Rowe’s raunchy and acutely minimalist study of urban alienation, romantic longing and bedroom practices no one should try at home. Set almost entirely inside a drab Mexico City apartment and filmed in a series of well-designed masters, pic evokes both Tsai Ming-liang’s quiet studies of contempo gloom and Bruno Dumont’s raw depictions of flesh-on-flesh, with a cleverly constructed story that pays off despite the bodily fluids. Semi-extreme content will attract distribs prepared to take a leap of faith.

Initially, first-timer Michael Rowe’s script (written with Lucia Carreras) plays like yet another dull meditation on modern big-city blues, as we follow freelance business journo Laura (“Babel’s” Monica del Carmen) through her solemn routine of eating, watching TV, looking out the window and talking on the phone with her mother.

But such details take on added significance as the narrative slides into darker waters, beginning with the first time Laura brings a guy home and the two have rough but passionless sex, the guy stealing away in the wee morning hours. This routine is repeated several times with different men, and it’s not until Laura meets Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez Parra), whose taste for violent coitus seems to be Laura’s cup of tea, that we begin to notice how her manic routines and masochistic urges are sheltering a deeper trauma.

As things advance toward a potentially horrendous finale, Rowe maintains a solid, unadorned aesthetic, meticulously studying an existence that’s not without its own absurdist humor. Both Juan Manuel Sepulveda’s widescreen setups and Alisarine Ducolomb’s threadbare art direction grant significance to the most basic gestures and props, while Oscar Figueroa Jara’s editing limits action to one shot per scene, a la “Stranger Than Paradise.”

Whether standing or on all fours, del Carmen’s performance is carefully constructed, oscillating between hard-hitting promiscuity and an everyday boredom that reveals its hidden agenda in subtle but telling ways.

Some fairly disturbing sex scenes may be a turnoff to high-brow arthouse crowds, but patient viewers will be rewarded with a conclusion that can only come from its character’s intense trial by fornication.

Leap Year

Mexico

Production

A Machete Producciones, Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografia production. (International sales: Pyramide Intl., Paris.) Produced by Edher Campos, Luis Salinas. Directed by Michael Rowe. Screenplay, Rowe, Lucia Carreras.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Juan Manuel Sepulveda; editor, Oscar Figueroa Jara; art director, Alisarine Ducolomb; costume designer, Adolfo Cruz Mateo; sound (Dolby Digital), Antonio Diego; sound designer, Miguel Angel Molina Gutierrez; associate producers, Olga Gonzalez, Gustavo Campos; assistant director, Rafael Ravinet Virbel. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 17, 2010. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Monica del Carmen, Gustavo Sanchez Parra, Marco Zapata.

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