Cannes (Directors' Fortnight) – Urszula Antoniak's film, whose title references the hospital code for a patient in need of resuscitation, follows a lonely nurse who believes that death is sometimes the kindest treatment. The writer/director herself calls it “challenging”. Emma Rowley agrees.
Dutch writer/director Urszula Antoniak said of her second feature, “My film needs to be a challenging experience”. In that she succeeds, as Code Blue is pretty unpleasant to watch. Outside the cinema that serves the Directors' Fortnight, a sign was affixed to the wall. It read: Attention. Some scenes of the film Code Blue may hurt the audience feelings. The audience was every bit as uncomfortable as the director could have hoped, with a good number walking out during the screening. But shock value was cheap at Cannes, where weird plastic surgery stalked the streets, yachts and beggars were seen in the same glance and Kirsten Dunst writhed in discomfort while von Trier talked Nazis: so what else does Code Blue have going for it?
There is the compellingly ambigous central performance from lead Bien de Moor, the kind often labelled as 'honest' or 'brave' (critic-speak for: 'takes clothes off to unromantic effect, performs grotesque acts, Christ, this shoot must have been gruelling'). Jasper Wolf's cinematography is clinical and striking, using a refined palette of washed-out colours and shadow. But other elements of the film showed a fuzziness of purpose which could be read as distance (from judgement, from explanation) but which just prevented any real viewer engagement beyond the already-discussed discomfort.
De Moor plays Marian, a forty-something nurse who lives alone in a spartan flat in a new, glass apartment building. She administers to her patients with an eerie attention, either fulfilling the unspoken wishes of these helpless people, or projecting her own desires onto them. A maybe serial killer with a sad cabinet of trophies – she takes a keepsake from each patient she euthanises. Outside of work, she is dying of loneliness. One night, from the window of the flat, she watches a brutal rape. She notices that a male neighbour, Konrad (Lars Eidinger), is watching it too. Their shared moment of voyeurism establishes a connection between them and they slowly begin to move towards a meeting.
Some of the film's symbolism feels overcooked: Marian follows Konrad to a video store and takes home the videos he just returned. One is Doctor Zhivago, the other a porn movie. She watches the latter while naked and energetically painting her front door red (hmmm, where's my Beginner's Guide to Freud?).
Other scenes are so completely unlikely that they distract from the story being told. After the rape she's witnessed, Marian visit the scene and finds a used condom. She takes it home, undresses and rubs the rapist's semen over her inner thighs. It seems less like an insight into a character than a filmmaker obviously manipulating the strings – and the responses of her audience.
Rating on a scale of 5 reasons to heed the warnings on signs: 2
Release date: TBC
Directed by: Urszula Antoniak
Screenplay by: Urszula Antoniak
Cast: Bien de Moor, Lars Eidinger, Annemarie Prins, Sophie van Winden, Christine Bijvanck
Running time: 81 mins