Bleeder Drama

Retro Review: Nicolas Winding Refn's Bleeder

October 22, 2013Ben MK

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When is a Nicolas Winding Refn film not a Nicolas Winding Refn film?

After a limited theatrical run, Only God Forgives hits the shelves this week. Nicolas Winding Refn's followup to his smash hit, Drive, garnered mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike -- who found it to be not what they expected. But you can't fault him for trying something different. He's an artist, after all. After his breakout film, Pusher, Winding Refn was faced with meeting similar expectations -- and, in 1999, he responded with his sophomore feature, Bleeder.

Bleeder hit screens the same year as Christoper Nolan's first film, Following. In addition to being good films in their own right, both are also interesting studies in their respective director's still-forming styles. While Winding Refn is best known to today's audiences for his deliberate pacing, scenes drenched in neon and operatic acts of shocking violence, Bleeder bears almost no resemblance to his current oeuvre. Granted, it does still possess a violent streak and has a bittersweet ending -- but it's also a little rough around the edges, brasher, more conversation-driven and darkly humorous.

If that wasn't enough of a departure, Bleeder is essentially an ensemble piece. Whereas Winding Refn's recent films typically focus on a mysterious, loner anti-hero riling against a greater evil (perceived or otherwise), Bleeder's core group dynamic is what gives it its character. The main storyline follows Leo (Kim Bodnia) -- a man struggling with the notion that he will soon be a father -- boyfriend of Louise (Rikke Louise Andersson). Louise's brother, Louis (Levino Jensen), is also a friend of Leo; as are Lenny (Mads Mikkelsen) and Kitjo (Zlatko Buric), who both work at the local video store. Lenny also pines after Lea (Liv Corfixen), who works in a nearby café.

In a way, Lenny mirrors Leo. Both are unwilling to move forward with their lives and accept reality -- for Leo, it's the reality of being a father; for Lenny, it's the reality of life (and relationships) beyond his safe haven in the video store. The difference that ultimately decides their respective fates is how they deal with their fear of progress -- Leo is ultimately unravelled by his inability to cope and his decisions to turn to violence as a response; while Lenny, on the other hand, is able to take control of his fate through his willingness to change.

For those looking for a different kind of Nicolas Winding Refn film, Bleeder is a good place to start. It's raw, funny, sad and violent -- and also very different from his current work. And in that sense, it's also far more accessible than anything else he's made recently. [B]

* Reviewer's Note: Bleeder will be screening on October 24th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto as part of the Nicolas Winding Refn retrospective, With Blood on His Hands: The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn. The director himself will not be in attendance, but there will be a special pre-recorded video introduction by him, shown prior to the film.

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