Two young women fall hard for one another quickly and decide to spend the next 24 hours together, having sex every hour. A washed-up Argentine pop star decides to head to Chile to pursue the only man who’s made her wet in years. Broken down to those simple synopses reveals something about Miguel Arteta‘s Duck Butter and Che Sandoval‘s Dry Martina: these are films that anchor their plots on assertive female sexuality. That such a thing remains a rarity in cinema, even in a post-50 Shades of Grey world, is not surprising. But it’s definitely worth celebrating.
Arteta, who co-wrote Duck Butter with its star, Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat, focuses his story on these fearless girls as they navigate a sped-up version of a long-term relationship. When Naima (Shawkat) meets Sergio (Laia Costa) she’s floored by the carefree ease with which this foreign-born girl moves through the world. She’s drawn to and perhaps even a tad intimidated by her. But once they make their 24-hour pact, the two give into their lustful attraction to one another. Interspersing their various lovemaking with candid conversations about intimacy, boundaries, and the many walls we build around ourselves, Duck Butter makes sex both integral and tangential in these women’s lives.
Whether tenderly approaching each other like lovers who’ve known each other a long time or hungrily wrestling one another onto the bed, Naima and Sergio remind us that consensual sex and open communication about one’s desires can be central to one’s identity. It’s a corner stone of the intimate relationships we build and to see an American indie (directed by a Puerto Rican-born director) tackle it with such unapologetic brio is thrilling. Furthermore, even scenes that tackle trickier territory — like recruiting two friends for a planned foursome — dream up a world where sex isn’t a dirty word nor a shameful act but a way to celebrate the connections we make with those closest to us.
From its cheeky pun-filled title to its outrageous premise (the guy Martina is after is the boyfriend of her biggest fan, who believes she’s Martina’s long-lost sister) Dry Martina is as wild and sex-crazy as its protagonist. The one-time pop wonder, who’s bigger in Chile than in her native Argentina — there’s even a Martina cover band there — becomes obsessed with rekindling her sex drive at any cost necessary. It’s why she doesn’t care she’s potentially ruining her relationship with a would-be sister. Her artistic inspiration, she believes, is intimately tied to her sexual urges: a literal dry Martina is a dried up artist. Plus, as she often repeats, her vagina’s instincts have never failed her.
Played with gusto by Antonella Costa, Sandoval’s character emerges as the kind of unruly protagonist that’s just trying to find herself even as she continues to spiral out of control. Much like Naima and Sergio, Martina exists in a world surrounded by characters who speak frankly and openly about sex. She’s often trying to downplay its importance even as she recognizes how much of herself she owes to her sex drive.
Both comedies, which feature plenty of steamy scenes that put female pleasure first, are particularly timely. As the #TimesUp and #MeToo movement rally on, they champion women in full control of their sexuality, unwilling to forego their own wants for the sake of another. True, Martina, Naima, and Sergio may have issues of their own (there’s a way these films dissect women on the verge of a few nervous breakdowns) but they represent a new kind of 21st-century female protagonist. One that’s unapologetically sexual but never for the benefit of the men in their lives (or in the audience).
Dry Martina and Duck Butter screened as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.