Raindance Review:THE WOMAN WITH LEOPARD SHOES

Year: 2020
Duration: 80 minutes
Writer/Director: Alexis Bruchon
Starring: Paul Bruchon

By Caz Armstrong

This is a thrilling French gothic neo-noir that gives your braincells a workout the whole way through. It’s a cinematic escape room with clues abounding, and a wonderful soundscape to boot. The audience is immersed in tension and intrigue. But sadly the execution labors the point and makes the trim 80 minute run time feel much longer.

A nameless man (Paul Bruchon) is hired to steal a box from inside a house. He’s a crook but not without charm and humanity so we’re on his side. During the crime a large group of party guests suddenly turns up and our burglar is trapped in one small guest room with no way to escape. Communicating with his employer only by text message, he must try to find a way to flee the scene. But in doing so he uncovers a much greater mystery and a nefarious plot bigger than he ever imagined. 

It’s very fitting of our socially distanced times that this film is set almost entirely in one room and with a single unspeaking character on screen. Almost all communication takes place via text message. A modern take on the genre perhaps, but it makes a few scenes drag out while we read the exchanges back and forth.

“This is a thrilling French gothic neo-noir that gives your braincells a workout the whole way through. It’s a cinematic escape room with clues abounding, and a wonderful soundscape to boot.”

However it does mean that messages, notes and letters could be shown in either French or English depending on which version of the film you are watching. It makes for a more easily saleable film but it’s a shame that a few more French messages got through the English edit than intended.

The rest of the film has the bare minimum of dialogue. Instead it uses a visual storytelling style and it comes as no surprise that the director has a background in illustration and graphic design. There’s emphasis from the excellent sound design and musical score. We don’t need to see a soiree in full swing if we can hear it through a crack in the door. We don’t need to be told that something is a shocking revelation if there is a stabbing violin to accompany a stunned expression. And why show a full actor when their shoes alone can tell a story?

“The premise is great and the single-character, locked-room style shows brilliant use of limited resources. The classic cinematography and visual storytelling melds very well with modern communication and isolation.”

The cinematography is reminiscent of some of the noir greats with heavy shadows and extreme close ups coupled with some inventive camera angles. But the editing lets it down somewhat. Choppy editing can add to the tension of a frantic moment but in places it gets a bit muddled. A curtain is yanked open and we’re on the other side of it all too suddenly making us unsure of our placement in the room.

A number of shots also labor the point a little heavily as though we’re not expected to have grasped key facts or nuance. The audience is not trusted to just read something once and get it, instead each element of a written note must be shown ‘In Big’ and connected with a corresponding object or facial expression.

Having said that, with a twisting plot of increasingly complex revelations it can get difficult to follow, perhaps unnecessarily so. An even shorter runtime would be preferable to the already skinny 80 minutes to save us from reading so many texts, simplify the backstory and get to the action.

The premise is great and the single-character, locked-room style shows brilliant use of limited resources. The classic cinematography and visual storytelling melds very well with modern communication and isolation. To pull all that off with what was clearly a very small budget is highly admirable.  But the constant texting does get laborious to watch and the twisting plot veers too far away from the premise to keep it exciting.

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