Apr 7, 2015

Code Blue (2011)

Out of all of the people I have known in my life, the most discernibly hopelessly dejected one I can think of was a middle-aged unmarried barren woman who lived life vicariously through her sisters and sisters' children, who would became the closest thing she ever had to children of her own. To an extent, I can understand this because a woman has to be a true failure to lack children and a husband, even if feminist-brainwashing has taught the ostensible fairer sex that they don’t need either to live a happy life. It is not often spoke of but naturally ‘old maids’ have made for some of the most conspicuously creepy yet paradoxically tragic characters in cinema history as demonstrated by works ranging from Robert Altman’s underrated early classic That Cold Day in the Park (1969) starring Sandy Dennis to the rarely-seen short William Faulkner adaptation A Rose for Emily (1983) starring Anjelica Huston to Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2001) starring Isabelle Huppert to the minimalistic Lars von Trier co-produced Dutch arthouse work Het zuiden (2004) aka South directed by Martin Koolhoven to countless campy hagsploitation flicks. Indeed, there is certainly something distinctly unnerving about an unhinged old maid who has nothing else to do in this world except to rot away in both the mind and body. The other day I masochistically subjected myself to what might be described as the ultimate work of ‘old maid-mania’ in celluloid form and I can honestly say that I cannot remember the last time a film made me feel so superlatively sick to my stomach. Indeed, the Dutch-Danish coproduction Code Blue (2011) directed by Polish-Dutch female auteur Urszula Antoniak (Nothing Personal, Nude Area) is such an uniquely and incontestably unsettling piece of arthouse aberrance that a warning sign reading “Some scenes may hurt the audience feelings” was posted outside its screening room when it premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival Directors' Fortnight. A work that both revolves around and connects sex and death, Antoniak’s anti-romantic piece of morbidly erotic angst tells the progressively perturbing tale of a skeletal Dutch middle-aged nurse of the desperately and ultimately deathly lonely sort who works at the terminally ill quarter of a hospital and has an almost fetishistic obsession with her most sickly patients that involves putting said sickly patients out of their misery, even sometimes against their will (or lack of). Ultimately, the ‘protagonist’ (or some might say ‘anti-heroine’) is irrevocably connected to a violently narcissistic young kraut after the two are united by happenstance (or what others might call ‘fate’) via an instance of sadomasochistic voyeurism revolving around a small gang-rape, thus erupting in a fierce ‘romantic’ fling that throws the somewhat loony lead over the edge and into a personal pandemonium of no return. A work with obvious Polish influences like Krzysztof Kieslowski, Andrzej Zulawski, and Jerzy Skolimowski, but also popular contemporary arthouse filmmakers like von Trier and Haneke, as well as a work with a morbid approach to eroticism that is vaguely in the spirit of the beauteously odious oeuvre of Teutonic aberrant-garde auteur Jörg Buttgereit, Code Blue is a cold and cruel celluloid dance with death that is guaranteed to deject, distress, and disturb any viewer whose heart is still beating. Indeed, forget the work of Catherine Breillat, Lucile Hadžihalilović, and Chantal Akerman, Antoniak is the real deal int terms of a dame director that dares to depict the brutality of life, namely female life. 

 In her own pathetic yet empathetic way, Marian (Belgian actress Bien de Moor of Henri Xhonneux’s bizarre de Sade adaptation Marquis (1989)) lives for death as a perennially lonely nurse in the terminal ward of a sickeningly sterile Dutch hospital who somewhat eagerly euthanizes patients, thus giving her a sense of power and importance that her personal life lacks. Although she tells coworkers that she has a daughter and provides evidence in the form of a vintage photograph that is probably of herself as a little girl, Marian is a barren woman who gets depressed merely by seeing footage of penguins laying eggs as it reminds her that her time is up in terms of being a mother, thus she must live a forsaken non-existence of the largely inward sort. Morbidly lonely and exceedingly sexually repressed, Marian likes to sit around her apartment naked while fondling a tiny inch-long pencil, as if she is so desperate for cock that she is willing to accept a minuscule needle dick so long as she receives some sort of male member, not matter how mediocre. While riding on a public bus, it is quite obvious that Marian would just love to start sucking the protruding fuck muscle of a man whose nether-region is only inches away from her face. When the man randomly walks away, Marian even gets out of her seat and looks for him at the back of the bus, as if she is suffering the delusion that she somehow missed out on an imaginary erotic encounter of sorts. After the sexually tense bus ride, Marian heads to a local video store when she spots a marginally handsome young German man named Konrad (Lars Eidinger), who she spies on while hanging around the Orson Welles section of the business, with copies of Touch of Evil (1958), The Trial (1962), and F For Fake (1973) being in plain view on the shelf, thus revealing some of auteuress Antoniak's assumed favorite films. Marian does not know it yet but Konrad lives in the same apartment building as her and the two will eventually come together in a most decidedly disgustingly disharmonious way. 

 Marian’s favorite movie is David Lean’s overrated epic Doctor Zhivago (1965) and while at the video store she rents a DVD copy of that and a random porno flick, which somewhat puzzles the man working at the counter, who passively heckles her. That night, Marian first watches Doctor Zhivago (1965) and then turns on the fuck flick, though she does not actually watch it as she lets in play while she paints her door blood red, as if to save her from the Angel of Death, who she seems to sense that she has an upcoming date with. The next day, Marian helps a patient by giving him an injection that ends his life and when another nurse asks her if she tended to the dead dude, she totally denies it. A somewhat passive-aggressive and seemingly jealous old boot of a broad, Marian starts a senseless scene of sorts at a grocery store because she is overcharged a mere 80 cents. The girl at the register is a somewhat attractive young lady that Marian is plainly jealous of as demonstrated by her bitchy attitude to her despite the fact that she is extra nice to the store’s handsome young male manager. Since Marian has no life and seemingly no relatives, she has seen it fit to keep little tokens and knickknacks from her patients/victims like brush with hair on it and a small cracked mirror, which she stores in a special cabinet in her apartment. The only person Marian seems to connect with his an elderly old woman that she just befriended who lives in the same apartment building as her named ‘Willie’ (Annemarie Prins), who she seems to respect due to her shared loneliness and refreshing openness, especially regarding sexuality, despite being an old fart. Indeed, when Marian asks her if she is afraid someone might break into her apartment due to the fact that she has a key to her apartment barely hidden right outside her front door, wild Willie responds, “If it were a young, handsome man, I would not mind.” Willie also seems to sense Marian’s sad and lonely life as demonstrated by her half-joking remark to her, “I don’t know who is more tired, you or me.” Of course, like with everyone else, Marian cannot help but lie to Willie by telling her she has a “tender” lover. When Marian goes to euthanize an elderly fellow that she has been giving somewhat sensual sponge bathes everyday and the rotting old-timer responds rather aggressively by busting up her face and causing her to bleed all over her face, she confesses her guilt to Willie and the old woman attempts to console her by telling her “I forgive you,” even though she has no clue that the protagonist is in the business of offing old folks just like herself.  When Willie randomly commits suicide, Marian finds her corpse, caresses it in a creepy fashion, and eerily stares into the dead woman's eyes as if she is longing for the same thing.

 When Marian looks out her apartment window one night and accidentally sees two masked men gang-rape a chick, her life ultimately takes a dramatic change. While watching the violent vaginal pillaging, Marian is spotted via an apartment window nearby by the young German man Konrad that she saw at the video store. As it turns out, Konrad lives in the same apartment building as Marian and also seems somewhat ‘aroused’ by the rape. Since both of them seem to derive voyeuristic pleasure from the attack and neither of them bothers to call the police, Marian and Konrad both seem to intuitively realize that they are kindred carnal spirits of sorts, or so it seems at first. The next day, Marian visits the rape site where she finds a used condom that one of the rapists senselessly left behind. In a rather revealing scene that demonstrates that Marian unequivocally has more than a few screws loose, the uniquely unhinged protagonist empties the dubious semen from the used rubber onto her vagina and begins masturbating with it. During the same scene, it becomes apparent that Marian has some other serious issues as reflected by all the various scars on her thighs, thus hinting that she is a ‘cutter.’ Naturally, Marian develops a deep, dark, and disturbing obsession with Konrad that involves her cutting a tiny hole in her blinds so that she can regularly spy on him without him knowing it. As demonstrated by the fact that he is constantly standing at his window, Konrad seems to sense that Marian is always watching him and wallows in such attention. When Konrad randomly calls up to Marian’s apartment and begs, “I’m lonely. I’M LONELY!” and “I’m so lonely. I want to help you. Please,” the protagonist is too afraid to respond and walks always from the call-box. Ultimately, Marian will be forced to encounter Konrad by chance at a party. Indeed, after breaking down to a young coworker named Anne (Sophie van Winden) and confiding to her that she is afraid that there is “something approach her,” Marian is told, “You have to be good to yourself. If you aren’t good to yourself…you can’t be good to others either” and is subsequently invited to a party. 

 Like Konrad, Marian is invited to the same party by a “friend of a friend” and when they bump into one another, they mention nothing of their shared witnessing of the rape. Of course, Konrad acts totally charming and tries to flatter Marian by telling her she looks “like an actress” instead of a nurse. Konrad is a stage manager and, somewhat curiously, he informs Marian that his favorite movie is also Doctor Zhivago, henceforth making it clear that he is attempting to prey on her emotions. Needless to say, Marian and Konrad soon go back to the former’s apartment to passionately fuck, but in the middle of making out, the young kraut curiously randomly stops and states, “I’m sorry…I think I’ll leave,” which inspires the protagonist to desperately yell, “No, you can’t” like a disappointed child and try anything she can to convince her male suitor to stay. When Konrad heads for the door, Marian literally jumps on his cock and starts fiddling with it, but that does not last long. Indeed, Konrad begins fiercely masturbating and won’t let Marian touch his member, but instead demands the protagonist “watch me,” adding when he becomes disappointed with her gazing, “Just watch me. Watch me. Not my face, stupid bitch, my dick. Watch it.” Naturally, when Konrad demands that Marian “talk dirty” to him and she says things like “come to me my love,” he becomes extremely annoyed and bitch slaps her. At this point, Marian becomes pathetically desperate to get fucked by seeming psychopath Konrad, who is so narcissistic that he is only interested in fucking himself, that she strips off all of her clothes in an extremely fashion fashion and attempts to more or less jump on his cock, but he responds by beating the shit out of her. While lying on the floor naked and bloody, Marian looks more physically and metaphysically dead than one of the patients from the terminal ward. In the end, while Konrad lies in bed with a soulless expression on his face, Marian frantically slits her wrist in a purposeful fashion. 

 Notably, in an interview at cineuropa.org, auteuress Antoniak stated regarding the significance of Code Blue protagonist Marian’s various questionable acts of euthanasia, “Marian’s patients are terminally ill and she wants to include herself in their death. Which is more what many families do for their loved ones. One patient allows her to inject him, another resists and fights. In the first case she is “Death according to Heidegger,” the experience we are consciously approaching. In the second one she is “Death according to Levinas,” a murderer approaching at night. The second experience leaves Marian in doubts. It’s the beginning of her becoming human.” While Antoniak can philosophize all she wants regarding her protagonist’s actions, when it comes down to it, the protagonist is a decidedly deranged dame whose psychological decay only seems transcended by the deterioration of her antiquated reproductive system. Of course, the fact remains that, like the protagonist of the film, a good percentage of female serial killers were either nurses and/or used poison as their inconspicuous method of murder, thus bringing new meaning to the phrase ‘feminine touch.’ While the protagonist of Code Blue is certainly, at least to some extent, empathetic towards her patients/victims, her actions are those of a warped woman with a death wish who ‘lives’ vicariously through the elderly folks that she carefully exterminates. As reflected by the fact that her husband Jacek ‘Luter’ Lenartowicz—a musician turned screenwriter that founded the popular Polish punk rock bands Deadlock and Tilt—died in 2004 after a long and painful struggle with brain cancer, director Antoniak was certainly personally obsessed with death, hence the malignant yet strangely eroticized melancholy dripping from Code Blue, which is without question one of the most hysterically hopeless and fiercely forlorn films I have ever seen. In fact, in her interview with Cineuropa she admitted the film was inspired by the death of a loved one, stating when she was asked when she started working on the work, “It starts for me with an experience that gets into my system and gives me stuff for reflection. In the case of CODE BLUE, it was death of someone I loved. As a director you climb the mountain again with each film. But with CODE BLUE I consciously took more risk by choosing the taboo subject of death. NOTHING PERSONAL was lyrical, CODE BLUE is challenging, controversial.” While the film managed to win the ‘Golden Calf’—the Dutch equivalent to an Oscar—for “Best Cinematography” and “Best Sound Design” at the 2011 Netherlands Film Festival, Code Blue, quite unlike Antoniak's much lauded and largely life-affirming first feature Nothing Personal, seems to have severely offended the majority of candy ass mainstream film critics, which is certainly a good sign, but it is certainly no surprise considering that the flick is rather politically incorrect and, whether intentional on the director's part or not, is a feminist's worst nightmare as it exposes many fears and weakness of women in a uniquely uncompromising way, thereupon indicating that Antoniak is a serious and genuine artist and not someone that is attempting to win a popularity contest. Indeed, Code Blue is the film that the critics wish Michael Haneke's overrated work Amour (2012) was, as a work that, for better or worse, fully and unsentimentally embraces death and never looks back. 

-Ty E

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