Cult Cinema: Bleeder

Before Drive and Only God Forgives, there was another film called Bleeder.

"I haven't seen this many VHS
tapes since 1982, man."
Danish writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn's 2nd feature film “Bleeder” finds the director at his most autobiographical and raw.  

Set in Copenhagen, Denmark, the gritty drama follows a group of movie going friends (two of whom work at the local video store) who spend a majority of their time watching movies.  One member of the group, Leo, grows depressed and withdrawn at the news his girlfriend is pregnant.  Stuck with a humdrum job, he witnesses a fight at a club one night and the lines between the movie violence he watches with his peers regularly and real violence he dreams of committing begin to blur.  Set against the drama is a charming romantic story about a nerdy videostore clerk named Lenny (Refn regular Mads Mikkelsen) who develops a crush on a bookworm named Lea (Refn's wife Liv Corfixen).  As Lenny watches his fellow film pal Leo go further off the rails, he begins to ponder more to life than his love for movies.

At once a confession of being a film dork trying to make a life for himself, Lenny is a kind of alter ego for Refn, satirizing his own passion for movies and trying to stake his claim in the film world.  That Refn cast his wife as the girl of Lenny's dreams furthers this notion of self reflection.  Of the violence depicted, though minimal one could say it hits harder than any of the gore filled horrors of “Drive” or “Only God Forgives”.  We've also all known someone like Leo, who likes the same things we do but is tragically beyond help as they start to implode.  As a film, it illustrates the argument between cinema violence and real violence, as the group of friends can't get enough bloodshed onscreen yet can't deal with the very real atrocities occurring about them.  It's as if Refn is saying life is too short to just watch movies all the time.  There's nothing wrong with enjoying art until you begin to lose those close to you in life.

"Did you hear that?
It sounds like the
Drive soundtrack!"
Shot in the same style as his debut feature “Pusher”(though expanded to widescreen format), “Bleeder” is told in naturalistic terms, almost like a cinematic documentary akin to early William Friedkin films.  Refn's use of music and intertitles to illustrate each character in the film's opening (notice each character's name begins with the letter L) achieves a synergistic effect that grabs the viewer almost immediately.  Equally effective is the use of wide angle lenses for many of the scenes of Copenhagen and the interiors of movie theaters.  A filmmaking technique Refn uses frequently involves running up to the actor with the camera as they walk in stride before pulling back to follow them.  Deep bass rumbles in complete silence are abundant in all his films, giving a sense of impending dread that violence will erupt out of thin air, and it's used before the opening credits to the film even unspool. 

Although “Bleeder” remains to have an official North American release on home video, if you're able to see it you will find the director at his most down to Earth and tragedian, capturing on film a man's needless spiral into oblivion as his movie watching friends can do nothing but stand back and watch before finding the will to carry on.  Those looking for the slick neon-soaked style of “Drive” are in for something more down and dirty here, but you can tell this is the work of a true cineaste who most certainly talks more about movies than its geeky protagonist Lenny.

-Andrew Kotwicki