The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn #2 – Bleeder (1999)

nicolas-winding-refn-2013-04-26-001-900x675Just who the hell is this polarizing director anyway? It seems that with every film he releases the receptions have been vastly divided from both critics and audiences alike. Is he too artsy for his own good? Is he no more than a glorifier of senseless violence? Or is he a one-of-a-kind visionary? Maybe he’s none of the above, or all of the above, or something entirely different altogether. Guess there’s only one way to find out. Time to tackle the world of Nicolas Winding Refn one film at a time. My take on his second feature Bleeder, after the jump.

four-stars4A sure sign that a director is the real deal is in how he/she follows the film that first drew them acclaim. In Refn’s case, his debut picture pushed (pun intended) his name into the consciousness of critics and world film lovers as someone worthy of attention. The question then is, now that he has their – and mine – attention, what next? Refn’s answer; take the best of what was working for him on his first feature and expand upon it.

Refn indeed expanded upon the already established template used in Pusher. The violence and onscreen machismo are back, manifesting themselves with cold brutality, there’s the unavoidable unease from spending so much time with such unstable characters, and the dialogue, like the best of a Quentin Tarantino scripted conversation, is hip, loose, and never feels forced (largely in part to the all around solid performances). Also, once again, one of the characters has a sweet Mad Max poster hanging in their apartment. At this rate, I’m surprised Refn wasn’t picked to do the Mad Max reboot.

Even with so many similarities from this film to his last, including the one-word title ending in an er, Refn still manages to show the world that he can tell a comprehensive story about street level personalities. This time instead of zeroing in on one character’s point of view, Refn tackles two, both of whom are once again played by Kim Bodina and Mads Mikkelsen, the stars of his last film. Here the two play friends again, only this time clearly they are cut from a different cloth.

There’s Leo (Bodina), the abusive boyfriend who it would be fair to say is not very pleased with the notion of his girlfriend wanting to go ahead with the birth of their unplanned child. So what does he do? He gets a gun. No worries though, he says it’s just for fun. Yeah, right. Almost nothing good, or fun, can possibly await Leo’s fate once a gun is introduced into the story. After all, this is a Winding Refn film, and already I’m beginning to see a pattern of violence emerge within his work. It’s no spoiler to say that indeed nothing good did come from that gun. As previously exhibited in Pusher, where he plays a man with his back against the wall, Bodina once again does a good job at playing an extroverted stress ball of tension who could snap at any moment.

bleeder1Then there’s Leo’s friend, Lenny (Mikkelsen). A video store clerk who inhabits none of the character traits found in his buddy Leo. He’s introverted, shy, polite, painfully awkward around women, and wants only to be left alone to watch films or geek out on them. Him and I would get along splendidly. This is a character that were the entire film to be devoted to him we’d be watching some sort of mash-up of Clerks meets Punch Drunk Love, only without the violent outbursts of Adam Sandler‘s character in the latter. Seriously, I would totally be friends with Lenny.

I like the idea of setting out to get inside the head spaces of two characters. Rather than shoot both of them the same way, Refn’ goes out of his way to shift tones when focusing on each of them. Aside from different character’s musical cues,  there is also some sly framing devices, and jumps being made from natural lighting to staged flourescent spotlights. Also, whereas several times we see Lenny shot from a distance, or from outside a location looking in, for the most part Leo is presented to us up close and in our faces, making the transitions from Leo to Lenny feel that much more welcoming.

My only complaint, which is minor, is the excessive use of fade to reds. I liked it the first time, even the second time, but by the fifth or sixth time it became overused to the point of it loosing its impact, and resulting in my first (and hopefully only) look at this director practicing in overindulging behavior.

As of this post, this film still does not exist on DVD here in the states. So if you want to see this be sure to live next to an amazing video store (Thanks Le Video), or get your pen pal in Europe to burn you a copy on a VHS tape and send it your way. You do remember VHS’s right? I’d recommend the latter for two reasons. 1 – Watching a movie about a video store clerk on a VHS tape who goes on about VHSs added its own cool meta quality to the film. 2 – You get to potentially befriend a European who has good taste in films.

Next up: Fear X


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Categories: Director Spotlight, Reviews

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