Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Barefoot Virgin (2019) review


Laura de la Vega (Leonor), Sandra Alberti (La Sombra [The Shadow]), Oscar Cabrera (El Novio [The Baron]), Antonio Mayans (El Curo [The Priest]), Luisa Torregrosa (La Tia [The Aunt]), Paquita Moya (La Criada [The Maid])

Directed by Lone Fleming

The Short Version: Lone Fleming, Spain's reigning Scream Queen since the 1970s, sets her sights on writing and directing with this impressive, dark tale of undying love. Ambiguous in execution, the 17 minute running time utilizes historical Spanish locales; sumptuous costume design; a musical score that is both ornately haunting and romantic; and plot elements from Stoker's Dracula, Shakespeare, and Biblical connotations draped in a Gothic setting. Fleming's first time directing is clearly not the work of a cinema VIRGIN; but one whose years of experience in front of the camera has fostered a masterful ability to be just as impressive behind it.

The beautiful Leonor discovers her aunt has sold her to a local nobleman in exchange for money and land. On the night before her wedding, the disconsolate young lady receives an otherworldly letter that blows into her window. Written by a mysterious man claiming to be her lover from a past life, she is soon visited by a black-clad specter and the ghostly presence of a woman; both intent on saving her from a lovelorn existence... and preparing her for an eternally requited one in the afterlife.

Lone Fleming, Spain's preeminent horror actress, has been blessed with a career resurgence that has been equal to, if not even more auspicious, than her first break in the industry fifty years ago. She's best known on American shores as the lead in Amando De Ossorio's seminal zombie epic, TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971); a horror-infused take on the historical Templar Knights. Lone Fleming is as integral to that film's success as its director; and, despite many other movie roles in a variety of genres, the one she is most closely identified with. Fleming returned for Ossorio's sequel, RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD in 1973. Years later she would be visited once more by the Blind Templar Knights of the Living Dead in David Garcia's short film from 2015, EL ULTIMO GUION (THE LAST SCRIPT).

After years of battling sightless zombies, psychotic sisters (in 1973s A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL), and demon-possessed young girls, Lone Fleming's realization of her life-long dream directing a movie (see behind the scenes pic above) has finally come to fruition in the form of LA VIRGEN DESCALZA (THE BAREFOOT VIRGIN); a 17 minute short subject dealing with fantasy, horror, and dark-tinged romance. The crowdfunded project took two years to see completion; and the result is a remarkable achievement. Fleming's love of cinema is in every frame of her mini-movie. Everything from the grandiose costumes, to the authentic locations, to the dedicated performances contains a level of polish missing from the works of other filmmakers with more money afforded them.

Mrs. Fleming (she's married to famous Spanish filmmaker Eugenio Martin of HORROR EXPRESS fame) not only directed THE BAREFOOT VIRGIN, but she wrote the script and did all of the storyboards as well. Clearly possessing a lot of passion for the project, Mrs. Fleming's enthusiasm is there in every frame. Her predilection for artistry is likewise on-screen in a number of painterly shots that stay with the viewer; such as a fantastic image of shadows conveying the action--akin to a silent movie or even the dark contours of Germany's Expressionist cinema.

Laura de la Vega is a new face in Spanish pictures, essaying the role of Leonor, the young virgin sold to a Baron but destined for someone else from another time and for another place. She's a memorable, beautiful presence--deriving pity from the audience as a young woman not in control of her own life; but the promise of greater things lie ahead, though darkly magical as they may be.

Support is given by Sandra Alberti (SATAN'S BLOOD [1978]) and Antonio Mayans (HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE [1973]) in roles that tease a much bigger picture than what the artist has painted for us--leaving it up to the observers interpretation as to its meaning. The portrayal of the former is particularly fascinating in that Ms. Alberti plays two roles. The less said the better, but simply put, Ms. Alberti is absolutely amazing.

Ambiguity is key to the VIRGIN's mysterious atmosphere and its many unanswered questions. The story behind Leonor's aunt, a woman with a sinister air about her; how Leonor came to be in her predicament after the death of her mother; the connection between the priest and Lara, Leonor's mother; who exactly is the shadowy, black-clad figure and what is his connection to Leonor? It's a romantic, if dark fairy tale that presents some fascinating ideas left to the viewers imagination.

Elsewhere, there's similitude with Stoker's Dracula in the idea of a reincarnated love; the moment of grotesque horror between Imogen and Cloten in Shakespeare's 'Cymbeline'; and even Biblical context between the title character and the Virgin Mary. There's a great deal of story to be told for such a brief running time, yet the unexplained portions work in the favor of the puzzle-box of themes and ideas in what is ostensibly a dream-like scenario.

The hauntingly romantic music composed by Antonio J. Asiain is one of the key components of this short-film's success. The operatic cues allow each scene to soar, giving the film a level of gravitas that belies its small budget and brief running time.

If you're a fan of Spanish horror, Gothic cinema styles, and of Lone Fleming (see behind the scenes pic above), then this short feature comes highly recommended. THE BAREFOOT VIRGIN treads fleet-footed over familiar Gothic territory, guided by an actress-turned-director with a unique vision. Briskly paced, this classy, esoteric mini-production serves as a sampler for those with a curiosity to see what Mrs. Fleming could do with a full-length feature and greater financing at her disposal.

You can read our interview with Lone Fleming HERE.

This review is representative of the Crowdfunding DVD of the film. In Spanish with English subtitles. Extras: Making of featurette; storyboards; trailer; running time: 00:16:59 

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