You shouldn’t really laugh at sin. Unless, it was the film Original Sin (Pecado Original), part of the Comedy Vanguard series at the Austin Film Festival, which ran October 25 – November 1. The festival showed over 180 films and brought screenwriters and filmmakers together to celebrate the role of the screenplay in filmmaking.
Original Sin, in Spanish with English subtitles, is an absurdist comedy written, directed, and produced by Korean-American filmmaker Jean Lee. The film’s story sounds serious – like a soap opera – but its production is raucous and crazy. Imagine Monty Python and Guiding Light having an illegitimate child.
Eva, played by Maia Nikiphoroff, a Paraguayan woman, moves to Spain with her husband Adrian, played by Cesar Di Bello who also co-produced the film. They are there to pursue his diplomatic career and on this day, he is expecting to get a promotion. As appropriate for an aspiring ambassador, her husband wants her to exude elegance and class. Eva, however, is bored, unhappy, and sexually frustrated.
She buys a provocative and offensive piece of art at an exhibition. When Luis the artist, played by Alejandro Torres Menchaca, – the opposite in almost every way to her husband – shows up to deliver the painting, sexual tension builds and explodes. Then her husband, who did not get the promotion, returns home and catches Eva and the artist in flagrante delicto.
But, don’t worry. It’s really funny.
Ensuing hijinks include off-the-cuff psychoanalysis, chases with and without knives, dancing (Luis and Eva, and Luis and Adrian), workouts, general insanity, and a dash of Cyrano de Bergerac.
After the screening the filmmakers answered questions from the audience. Writer/director/producer Jean Lee introduced Maia Nikiphoroff with whom she shared writing and producing credits, Cesar Di Bello, who also helped produce, and Alejandro Torres Menchaca. Menchaca pointed out, “I’m just an actor.” The audience gave him an extra round of applause for his modesty.
Lee was asked how the idea for the film developed. She cited her friendship with Nikiphoroff.
“I’m a Korean-American,” she explained, “but I’ve always had an affinity for Spanish culture.”
She recalled how her grandmother had immigrated from Korea to Los Angeles. There she worked in a factory with many Central American women. Her grandmother learned Spanish and taught her.
Lee continued, “Maia and I got to talking and we both recalled how TV novellas were such a great part of the lives of the women in our families. The role of women in Korea and in Spanish culture is similar as are the soap operas, which are kind of an escape for women.”
Lee said she has always been fascinated with world cinema. She has made films in more than 15 countries including Indonesia and Korea. She worked with Nikiphoroff to develop the idea and together they made Original Sin, filmmaking’s first joint US/Paraguayan production.
I was skeptical about attending a comedy in a language I didn’t know and having to read subtitles. This was not a problem as the humor transcended language. You can watch a trailer below (but not with your kids).