honeymoon

Honeymoon (Luna de miel)

Mexico (2015) Dir. Diego Cohen

They say it is always the quiet ones you have to watch out for. Mexican director Diego Cohen explores this particular maxim in his latest film, which is most assuredly not for the easily squeamish.

Jorge (Hector Kotsifakis) is a quiet medical doctor who lives alone in his old fashioned furnished home. Across the street, he spies Isabel (Paulina Ahmed) as she goes for her morning jog. He begins by adoring her from afar, despite her being married to Pablo (Alberto Agnesi) then constructs situations where their paths cross and exchange greetings.

One day Isabel runs past Jorge who is changing a tyre on his car and offers to help. As she leans into the boot to retrieve a tool Jorge knocks her out cold with an injection, locks her in the boot and takes her to his home. Keeping Isabel strapped to a wheel chair and with an electrified collar to keep her in check, Jorge “marries” Isabel and begins a new life with her.

This isn’t a pleasant film to watch as you may have surmised already but Cohen bides his time in delivering the shocks and gore, which is quite understated compared to most films in the torture genre. While Honeymoon fits into this sub-category it is a more psychologically driven story and less about deliberately making the audience bring up their dinner, which it achieves anyway.

Because the main victim is female who undergoes some pretty grotesque treatment at Jorge’s hands, this will seem like a slice of misogynistic, sick fantasy, wish fulfilment for the disturbed members of society. Certainly, it is hard to dismiss or disagree with this accusation but Cohen keeps things just about on the right side of acceptable through Jorge’s disturbed sense of love buttressed by a curious twist in the third act.

Unfortunately this development raises more questions than answers at least as far as Jorge’s actions are concerned. It’s difficult to discuss this in depth because it would be a huge spoiler, and while it provides some explanation for this bizarre kidnapping, suffice to say it takes us right back to square one in trying to divine Jorge’s mindset and motives for this behaviour in the first place.

In some way it is a shame that the DVD cover gives way the basic premise of Isabel being an obvious victim of Jorge’s, as the build up to the actual abduction is so well done we genuinely feel he is a nice guy trying to woo the girl he adores but gets stuck at every turn. When he finally reveals his true colours it is such a shock it would have been better to keep that as the first major surprise of the film.

With his unassuming looks, conservative and old-fashioned dress sense – including the occasional bow tie – and nervous disposition when he is around Isabel, Jorge is the perfect everyman underdog the audience can relate to and sympathise with. But because we know from the cover that Isabel ends up with Jorge, we are curious about the things he buys from a DIY store.

Then there is the electrified collar that he tests on himself for a brief moment of comic relief but that is where the laughs end. Isabel awakens from her initial drugging to find herself bound, gagged and in a wheelchair. Jorge removes her wedding ring, announces that marriage is over before conducting his own ceremony, complete with a tuxedo for him and white wedding dress for Isabel, forcing to her to say “I do”.   

The newlyweds sadly don’t get along as Isabel tries to escape, forcing Jorge to drug her again. While he showers his bride and provides her with clean clothes and food, Isabel still doesn’t warm to him and during dinner, spits food in his face. I won’t detail the repercussions of this act of defiance but it is unnervingly gruesome and uncomfortable to watch.

By this point we have long forgotten the timid and unlucky in love Jorge from the first act and we are equally as afraid of what he will do next as Isabel is. Being a doctor his range of physical punishment is wider than most and performed with exquisite skill, but none of this suggests love, twisted or otherwise.

Yet there is something desperately tragic about Jorge, as he feels the need to rape Isabel while she is comatose, suggesting a psychological and emotional fragility he clearly cannot reconcile. Unfortunately this exposes an issue with this particular DVD release – Jorge reads a newspaper clipping about the murder of his parents but the headline isn’t translated into English, so we may have missed something integral here.

This also occurs later on in the film’s coda which again I can’t discuss but it does appear to help explain the set up behind the eventual ambiguous denouement. What the actual meaning of it is makes for a good topic of discussion, with possible theories ranging from the idea of violence begets violence, or maybe turnaround is fair play. The only thing we can take from this film is that people are cruel.

If the torture and psychological bullying is off putting that would be down to the two central performances being absolutely superb and wholly convincing. Hector Kotsifakis does a masterful job in blurring the lines of Jorge’s Jekyll and Hyde persona, underlining his role with a touch of pathos.

Paulina Ahmed, who apparently insisted on staying bound during scenes as she didn’t want to lose the feeling of entrapment, delivers possibly the most believable reactions to the hideous torture Isabel endures, to the point you wonder if she was actually acting.  Terrifyingly effective in both intensity and verisimilitude.

Despite some irritating shaky camera work and incongruous musical cues, Honeymoon is a film that requires a tough stomach and an open mind as to what the objective of it is, whilst reiterating in a very unpleasant manner that love is indeed strange.

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