By Gary M. Kramer.
“Remains intriguing….uncomfortable, but never exploitative.”
The feature directorial debut by Emilio Santoyo, Ana’s Desire, opens with static shots and silence. Ana (Laura Agorreca) lives with her cute young son Mateo (Ian Garcia Monterrubio, charming, never cloying). She cares for him, and tends to her plants, until one day Juan (David Calderón) arrives. His motorcycle catches Mateo’s eye, and the young boy is curious why this man is looking for his mother. It turns out Juan is Ana’s brother. They have not seen each other in an unspecified period of time, and their sudden reunion sparks all kinds of emotions.
Santoyo creates some nice ambiguity and tension in these early scenes. Obviously, something has transpired between the siblings; even Mateo picks up on how they treat each other. One clue is dropped when Juan enters the bathroom while Ana is showering. She is surprised by his forthrightness, and he teases her when she asks him for a towel. Another telling moment has the siblings lying on the couch, Juan’s head in Ana’s lap, as they stroke each other’s hair.
Yet Juan, it seems, is not to be trusted. He snoops through Ana’s apartment, steals food from a store, and smokes in the house when his sister specifically asks him not to. Juan also poisons Mateo’s mind when he tells the child that Ana’s boyfriend, Pedro (Emmanuel Varela), is looking to buy his affections to be closer to his mother.
Juan, it seems, has no sense of boundaries. But this is because – the film soon reveals – he has desires for Ana. Moreover, she is unable to resist him. It may be a spoiler to reveal the film is about an incestuous relationship, but Ana’s Desire generates its drama as the siblings’ relationship is rekindled: Will the lovers be discovered, or end things once and for all?
Santoyo allows this thin plot to create meaning in symbols, from a watch Ana has that was once Juan’s, to photographs that Ana clings to that suggests something from the past.
Much of what is unsaid speaks volumes. Neither sibling wants to address the taboo situation, which is further complicated when Juan confesses to Ana that he is going to have a baby. And when Juan tells Ana “you taste different,” it prompts her to silently reflect on their past.
Ana’s Desire is shot in the slow cinema style, with long, static takes that change after Juan enters the picture. There is a scene that has Juan and Ana spinning in circles as they reconnect and feel the dangerous thrill of attraction. Another scene, shot in a nightclub, is also terrific. Juan follows Ana through a crowd of people as viewers simultaneously want him to catch up with her but also leave her alone. After they share some passionate kisses, Ana breaks free and begs Juan to leave. The scene, which features pulsating music and strobe light is very effective as illustrating their fractured relationship.
The action eventually shifts to the childhood home of Ana and Juan. The house is in a suspended state, and a particular room left untouched from when Ana and Juan were children. This is where the film builds to its climax. Santoyo even projects “home movie” footage to reveal the characters as children. Juan is seen licking Ana’s face, a gesture performed earlier in the film. This sequence may bring the story full circle, but it somehow feels unnecessary, spoon-feeding viewers who are asked to recalibrate the interactions between the siblings with every exchange.
The performance by Laura Agorreca is quietly moving as she conveys her passion and her fears after Juan’s return. Her body language and expressions – especially in her scenes with Pedro at a restaurant or in bed with him, having sex – communicate just how distracted she is by her brother. It is clear she cannot deny her attraction much as she may want to.
David Calderón, however, feels miscast in his pivotal role. His Juan needs to be more seductive and desirable in his scenes with Ana. He mostly comes across as impetuous and jealous. Her response to him shows why her performance is so strong. Calderón has more rapport with the young Mateo than the other characters, which is a drawback.
Ana’s Desire may be a slight film, but it is remains intriguing because Santoyo captures the forbidden relationship with aplomb. It feels uncomfortable, but never exploitative, which is why it gets under the viewers’ skin.
Gary M. Kramer writes about film for Salon, Cineaste, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News, The San Francisco Bay Times, and Film International. He is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina, Volumes 1 & 2.