An irrational attachment to a favorite pair of shoes leads to mayhem in Bloody Marie, a not-unpleasantly gritty drama set in Amsterdam’s red-light district. Then again, the cause of trouble could be just about anything for the protagonist of Lennert Hillege and Guido van Driel’s film, an artist who, lacking inspiration and full of remorse, is currently keeping herself soaked in vodka or whatever substitute is at hand. Susanne Wolff, who impressed critics last year in Wolfgang Fischer’s Styx, makes another strong turn here, grounding what could have become a merely lurid tale of dissipation, danger and sex work. Though it didn’t make it past the shortlist to become the Dutch entry for Oscar consideration, the film should find some admirers in limited art house release and on demand.
Wolff plays title character Marie Wankelmut, a cartoonist who hasn’t published anything in several years. In this comics-friendly part of Europe, though, she’s still recognized on the street — and perhaps the odds of that grow when you’re an attractive woman whose last book was called Porno for the Blind. We meet her as she dances alone in a near-empty bar, her voiceover saying something to the effect of, birds fly, ducks swim, I drink. A stranger named Oscar (Jan Bijvoet) introduces himself as a fan and wants to buy her a drink, but soon she’s making a scene; that scene gets worse when her local liquor-store owner politely refuses to sell her anything.
A credibly seedy character study.
Marie is recognized again as she approaches her house, which is squeezed between brothels on one of the city’s most tourist-afflicted canals. Dragomir (Dragos Bucur) has noticed his neighbor through her window; while he isn’t such a fan that he’ll give her the bottle he’s carrying for free, he does agree to trade the booze for her retro-clunky red leather shoes.
Marie has enough sober hours in coming scenes for us to get a sense of her personality, and to understand the guilt she carries regarding the recent death of her mother, who was also an alcoholic. But when she shows some old art to her publisher, hoping to pass it off as new and get some badly needed money for it, it’s page after page of the same autobiographical scene: Woman drags herself up stairs when she can no longer walk; woman drags herself downstairs instead of tumbling drunkenly. Marie calls it minimalism — viewers may choose a sadder word.
Even so, this is a woman not entirely of the decadent world that surrounds her. When she’s not blotto, she reacts to others with compassion and curiosity — and, when the sex sounds next door turn angry, with worry. But she’s anything but sober when she sees her red shoes in Dragomir’s open window one night, then risks death clambering across rooftops to steal them back. While she’s at it, she takes a couple thousand euros that are sitting stacked beside them. That’s a recipe for disaster in a house full of young prostitutes and thuggish pimps.
Hilleg and van Driel, in their first film together, make a fairly graceful segue into a more genre-friendly mode here, adding menacing notes and suspicious interactions until Marie is fully wrapped up in the lethal drama next door. The action walks right up to the line at which a non-criminal might credibly survive it, then tests Marie’s mettle as she realizes she’s responsible for someone other than herself. One thing is certain: If she survives the encounter, Marie’s not going to be lacking artistic material for a long time.
Production company: Family Affair Films
Distributor: Uncork’d Entertainment
Cast: Susanne Wolff, Dragos Bucur, Alexia Lestiboudois, Jan Bijvoet, Therese Affolter
Directors-screenwriters: Lennert Hillege, Guido van Driel
Producer: Floor Onrust
Director of photography: Lennert Hillege
Production designer: Floris Vos
Costume designer: Bernadette Corstens
Editor: Stijn Deconinck
Composer: Matthijs Kieboom
Casting director: Rebecca van Unen
In Dutch, English