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  • Code Blue | Review

    By | January 17, 2012

    Director: Urszula Antoniak

    Writer: Urszula Antoniak (screenplay)

    Starring: Bien de Moor, Lars Eidinger, Annemarie Prins, Sophie van Winden, Christine Bijvanck, Hans Kesting

    In the second feature film directed by Urszula Antoniak –- a Polish filmmaker living in Amsterdam –- the lead character, Marian (Bien de Moor) is constantly saying that she has made a mistake. We have already seen Marian perform euthanasia; we also see her watch a collective rape from the distance of her window. The rapists throw a woman to the ground and force an orange into her mouth — the woman looks like fattened festive piglet prepared for special guests seated around the family dinner table. It this brutal comparison? Flesh is nothing more than flesh, we should add. Or is it much worse?

    The following day, Marian goes to the scene of the rape and brings home the orange and a worn condom to play with. That was enough for some viewers as they began leaving the cinema in Cannes — where the premiere of the film took place last year -– without the answer of the primary question: What was Marian’s mistake? We have two options: Marian sinned because she deprived several people of their lives or she is feeling guilty due to her own passivity (she let the woman be raped). In my opinion, either of these two choices is the right one. Marian made a mistake when she lost control; when somebody noticed her quiet presence.

    Marian works as a nurse at a hospital. She takes care of dying patients. “Are you in a relationship with a woman?” Marian was asked by her neighbor one day, “do you have a man, then? A lover?” “A lover,” but if Marian would be honest enough, she could say, “not only one.” “How is he?” “Tender.” Marian is as tender with her patients as she could be with a partner. She looks like a person who is making love when she touches their old faces and squeezes their hands. Marian touches their wrinkled epidermis and quietly implicates that it gives her pleasure. Afterwards, she covers dead bodies and cleans them up with a great love and gentleness. She collects personal things which do not belong to her, like a used pencil and a comb with some hair in it. Usually, we do not see anyone’s whole body; eroticism appears thanks to the fragmentation of body parts as in Hans Bellmer’s sculptures. Moreover, bodies become conscious and alive when they experience ecstasy or pain. According to that conviction, Marian observes those who are at that obscure object of desire; who are dying, raped and killed.

    As a nurse performing mercy killings, Marian has power over the human body; so, as a woman, she should also have power over men. But Marian looses it in a moment when one of her male patients suddenly touches her — moreover, he cuts her cheek and ear. Blood runs down her white overalls. Additionally, a younger man — Konrad (Lars Eidinger) — appears in Marian’s life. Konrad was watching Marian all the while she was observing the rape. They finally meet at a party. Borders are crossed over. “You don’t look like a nurse,” Konrad remarks, “you look more like an actress.” (If I was in Konrad’s shoes, I would add “play with me.”) Death and eroticism could turn into one thing; yet, it will not be as subtle and allegorical as it was in Antoniak’s debut Nothing Personal (2009). In Code Blue, we get them both — sex and dying — as soon as we accept that they can only be thrown into our faces as bloody pieces of meat.

    Many critics claim that Antoniak was inspired by metaphysics taken from Krzysztof Kieslowski’s movies. In my opinion, humiliation and redemption do not have Christian roots here. That would be too simple. The cinematographer (Jasper Wolf) often shows the characters in front of big, clear windows, giving the effect of seeing black figures on a plain stage, like in Chinese shadow theatre. Antoniak uses this tradition to play with her characters and to emphasize the contrast between seeing and not seeing, intimacy and distance, living and dying.

    The movie title is a phrase taken from medical jargon, referring to the necessity of urgent reanimation. The audience was reanimated constantly, getting up from their chairs and leaving the cinema with jagged nerves. The body was too abused for them. All of this reminds me of Marina de Van’s Under My Skin (2002). The social critique was hidden deep inside this French, brutally naturalistic film about a woman cutting her body until the very end of her life. To understand it properly, one needs to take off some layers. It hurts, it bleeds; it could season one with nausea, but it is worth doing it.

    Rating: 9/10

    Go to for the original Polish-language version of Anna’s review.

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