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BFI London Film Festival 2022 Review - PIAFFE

piaffe review
A foley artist experiences a sexual awakening as she sprouts a tail.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ann Oren

Starring: Simone Bucio, Sebastian Rudolph, Simon(e) Jaikiriuma Paetau, Lea Draeger, Josef Ostendorf

piaffe poster

On paper, Ann Oren's feature debut Piaffe shares its premise with Russian filmmaker Ivan I Tverdovskiy's 2017 film Zoology. Both movies feature timid women experiencing a sexual awakening upon mysteriously sprouting a tail. Stylistically however, the two directors take very different approaches. As you might expect from her visual arts background, Oren isn't concerned too much with plot, more with expressing her film's thematic sensuality, combining images and sound in a seductive manner.

piaffe review

Sound plays a major role in the film, which is something of a thematic cousin of Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio. Like that film, Piaffe revolves around a foley artist's desperate quest to find the right sound for a particular scene. In this case it's the put-upon Eva (Simone Bucio), an amateur who has fallen into the role after her professional foley artist older sibling Zara (Simon(e) Jaikiriuma Paetau) was institutionalised following what appears to have been a suicide attempt.

Eva is tasked with soundtracking the clippity-clops of a horse's hooves in a commercial for a dodgy drug named Equili. Her initial efforts see her reprimanded by a tyrannical director, leading Eva to visit a stable in the hopes of becoming more familiar with the sound of horses. Back in the studio, Eva throws herself into a version of foley work that borders on method acting, clamping a bracelet between her teeth to imitate a harness and moving her legs in the graceful manner of a horse as she walks around. In a striking edit, Oren cuts from the horse on Eva's screen to the young woman's feet, moving in similar rhythm at a dance club.

piaffe review

When Eva begins to sprout a tail, she doesn't seem all that bothered by it. We've watched her allow herself to be bullied by practically everyone she encounters, so it's natural that she accepts this as yet another hardship. With the aid of a stern-faced botanist (Sebastian Rudolph), Eva finds herself in an S&M relationship, with the two incorporating her new appendage into their sex games, giving new meaning to the term "horseplay."

Following Jordan Peele's Nope, Piaffe is the second 2022 movie to allude to cinema's roots in the desire to capture the movement of a horse. Peele's film sees its protagonists' lives enriched by a quest to capture an animal of sorts on film, while Oren gives us a sonic spin on the idea with her heroine adding a soundtrack to a sequence of images not unlike those captured by photographer Eadweard Muybridge in the 19th century. The horse is so tied into cinema (after all, the western became the first great cinematic genre) that it makes sense that Eva would transform into this particular beast.

piaffe review

Bucio impressed in her acting debut a few years in the Mexican supernatural thriller The Untamed. In that film she played a similarly taciturn young woman who experiences a sexual awakening at the hands, or rather the tentacles of a strange alien creature. It's curious that she's chosen Piaffe as her second role, but I guess she knows what she likes and likes what she knows. With her ethereal features and ungainly grace, Bucio makes for the perfect foil for Oren's odd drama, making the strange developments a little less abnormal with her committed performance. Like The Untamed, Piaffe is a celebration of sexual pleasure, regardless of what form it may take, but where Amat Escalante's idea was wrapped in a compelling narrative, Oren's film lapses into something closer to pornography in a final act that may test the patience of some viewers.

 plays at the BFI London Film Festival from October 9th.

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