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Code Blue | Review

Nothing Personal: Only feelings likely to get hurt are Antoniak’s after critics get done with this hollow exercise in provocation

Signs posted all over the Croisette warning that Urszula Antoniak’s new film Code Blue “may hurt the audience feelings” got a few laughs – until the dire thing finally screened to an audience. Neither as offensive as promised nor necessarily cathartic, this colourless portrait of masochistic sacrifice is ill-conceived in almost every department. Violent, sterile, and ugly, one has to wonder what the filmmaker was hoping viewers would take away from this movie other than a few extra wrinkles in the forehead. Blue will likely only appeal to those who actively seek out gratuitous misanthropy in their entertainment.

Code Blue, which is named after the hospital code that indicates a patient needs immediate reanimation, follows a nurse named Marian who cares for and euthanizes terminally ill patients (the controversial euthanasia topic would perhaps be the part that was expected to hurt people’s feelings). She lives an ascetic existence in a chillingly modern condo with nary a piece of furniture. Despite her homely appearance, her leisure time consists of watching smutty movies that she rents from the video store (which are prone to set her off into fits where she paints Abstract Expressionist murals on her walls, completely nude of course), as well as spying on a neighbor (Everyone Else‘s Lars Eldinger) from her living room window. When she witnesses a brutal attack in the field outside of her apartment building, she is frightened and intrigued to notice that the neighbor-of-her-desire was, likewise, a transfixed and un-acting spectator of the incident.

Like a giraffe after electro-shock therapy, Marian (Bien De Moor) is awakened by an idea of intimacy and voyeurism that whets her appetite for naughtiness. The only problem is, she’s been sedated for so much of her adult life that she assumes a brutish agenda for catching up on lost time (i.e. she wants someone to get rough on her). With enough overt symbolism about death and sacrifice to fill out a whole ‘nother book in the New Testament, Antoniak jettisons subtlety for trite religious metaphors pertaining to awakenings and redemption that provoke groans more than anything else.

However, both youthful and craggy, De Moor is perfectly cast for this role, even if it is drastically mishandled. She has a charisma and sympathy, but also mystery, that lends her actions a certain credibility that would be were probably difficult to pull off. Eldinger, on the other hand, is a bit more awkward in his role as a sleazy and enigmatic fellow. His boyish features clash with the ferocity of some of his actions later in the film, and it makes an already hokey resolution all the more artificial. The lensing is technically suburb, but too heavy on the suggestive blues and reds that burst within the minimal frames. In its own perfectly festival-approved construction, Code Blue won’t register any blips on the spectrum of over-conceived controversial fare. Somehow, despite its risible content, it manages to blend right in.

Reviewed on May 16th at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival – Directors’ Fortnight Section

Rating 2 stars

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Blake Williams is an avant-garde filmmaker born in Houston, currently living and working in Toronto. He recently entered the PhD program at University of Toronto's Cinema Studies Institute, and has screened his video work at TIFF (2011 & '12), Tribeca (2013), Images Festival (2012), Jihlava (2012), and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Blake has contributed to's coverage for film festivals such as Cannes, TIFF, and Hot Docs. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Talk to Her), Coen Bros. (Fargo), Dardennes (Rosetta), Haneke (Code Unknown), Hsiao-Hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon), Kar-wai (Happy Together), Kiarostami (Where is the Friend's Home?), Lynch (INLAND EMPIRE), Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Van Sant (Last Days), Von Trier (The Idiots)

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