To Laura (Mónica del Carmen), the desolate protagonist of Michael Rowe’s absorbing debut Leap Year, the sight of a neighboring couple cuddling before the TV is a recurring vision of romance and domesticity at once idealized and unsettling—she watches them, masturbates to the distant spectacle (as in Hitchcock, the window becomes a rectangle for projected fantasies, a movie screen), and sobs. A twentysomething freelance writer who, except for one brief, pregnant sequence set in a supermarket, is never seen outside of her cramped Mexico City flat, her every quotidian activity (fibbing to her mom on the phone, playing Tetris on her laptop, bedding random men in one-night stands) is scrutinized with the same cool concentration and precisely framed camera set-ups. When one of the men (Gustavo Sánchez Parra), a closet sadist who spots the closet masochist, surprises Laura with a full catalog of increasingly brutal humiliation rites, the stolid, pajama-clad loner transforms herself into a nude figure shivering with anticipation for the violence to come. “I feel… protected,” she says softly, curled next to him on the sofa after one of their slapping-burning-chocking sessions. Visceral Breillat territory minus mordant Breillat enchantment, Leap Year may be too narrow a scenario to sustain the allegories of cultural bondage Rowe is aiming for. There’s no denying, however, his eye for the bold and subtle body language of his main actress, and for evocative visuals (dim, bronze light that hangs in rooms like mist, a single dot of ominous red on a calendar that dominates a beige wall) that hint at unspoken traumas and shifts in inner worlds. The dispassionate fusion of sex, solitude and violence places it alongside recent Mexican slow-burners like Los Bastardos and Parque Vía, yet the film stands apart from them in its battered hope for salvation and in the kind of surreptitious sense of humor that reminds us that, no matter what ecstatic effect golden showers may have on the heroine, she still has to mop the floor afterwards.