London 2022

Piaffe review – a greatly seductive, bona fide cinematic pleasure

Ann Oren's sexy and imaginative debut feature is a delightful, sensual tale about surrendering to artistic and bodily instincts

Piaffe, the most dizzyingly sensual film of the year, is about a foley artist. Not any foley artist, though – Eva, meek and introverted as she may be, possesses quite a literal animality. A horsetail is growing out of her lower spine: first a sub-epidermal bump, it unfurls into a luscious black tail, swaying under her trench coat as she walks.

The feature debut of visual artist and filmmaker Ann Oren, Piaffe is one of the sexiest movies we collectively have the pleasure of seeing on screens. Viscerally indulgent, like the audiovisual equivalent of lowering oneself into a luxuriously scented bath, Oren’s film maps – with every tactile, sonic, and visual experience – one woman’s trajectory towards sexual and bodily liberation.

Our protagonist, Eva, is sound designing an advertisement for a mood stabilising drug. The ad features a horse, so we meet her in her studio trepidatiously crawling barefoot towards a collection of wooden trays on the floor. Each tray houses a different material, like sand or hay, and a different “instrument”: a pair of leather brogues, or two halves of a coconut husk. Through a riveting trial-and-error process, Eva attempts to discern what materials and rhythms best approximate the sound of a horse’s gallop. To mimic the wet, metallic dullness of its tongue against bridle, she takes a chain into her mouth and bites. She taps her “hooves”; not quite right, so she tries again.

Never have these otherwise banal sounds been more attuned to tactility and texture, and thus, more erotic. Recall how certain sounds – be it the quiet tap of a microphone, the shimmer of a chain being fastened, or a lover’s breath in one’s ear – send a phantom touch down the nape. Piaffe starts off as a film about that shiver, about the fetishism of placing one’s heightened attention on minuscule sensations, before blossoming into a delightful tale about surrendering to artistic and bodily instincts.

To fuel her sexual discovery, Eva courts a botanist into having the most beautiful sub/dom sex to involve ferns, deepthroating a rose, and choking a horsegirl with her own tail. Actor Simone Bucio delivers an utterly sensational performance as Eva (sensational: meaning “pertaining to sensation”); reminiscent of Maggie Gyllenhaal in Steven Shainberg’s Secretary, if Maggie Gyllenhaal was also growing a horsetail that doubled as an erogenous zone, Bucio’s mesmerising physicality imbues Eva with a mousy shyness that gradually succumbs to discovering the pleasures and power of submission.

The sheer eroticism of Piaffe’s kinky imagination has to be experienced to be believed, not least because by some wondrous cinematic alchemy – shot on textured 16mm, with impeccably curated colour, composition, and of course, sound – the film makes you feel like you’re touching what’s on screen, and being touched in return. One gets the feeling that Piaffe is in love with filmmaking as a devoted commitment to translating touch and feel and vibration. It is astounding in its imagination and craft, and a greatly seductive, bona fide cinematic pleasure.

Piaffe was screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2022. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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