Friday, October 31, 2008

"Romeo is Bleeding" Femmes Fatales I

Conflict, says Ayn Rand, is the essence of plot. A plot requires struggle. Man can struggle with nature, with himself, and with other men. A struggle with nature provides a simple, one-sided plot. There is no psychological element, no conflict of human values in such a struggle. A struggle with oneself can be very dramatic, but it affords limited scope unless it is played out in the context of a wider struggle with others. It is in conflict with others that the widest range of plot developments are available. And one of the most popular, if not profound, scenarios for a dramatic plot is the crime story. Inherent in a crime story is the conflict between the criminal and his victim, necessarily with opposing interests.

The femme fatale is a particularly interesting type of character. In the crime story with a femme fatale we have not only the criminal element, with its dimension of good versus evil, we also have a shared romantic interest between the hero and the villain, as well as a conflict in the hero's values. If the hero has a love interest in the villain, then he must struggle "with" her while struggling against her. He may want to love her, but have to kill her. This leads to an internal struggle within the her which allows the dramatist to explore the hero's motivations and to develop his character.

The first femme fatale movie that I would like to examine is Romeo is Bleeding with two of my favorite actors, Gary Oldman (Jack Grimaldi) and Lena Olin (Mona Demarkov). Grimaldi is a cop on the take, working for the NYPD and the Italian Mafia. He has a wife, (Annabella Sciorra) a mistress (Juliette Lewis) and several hundred thousand in cash buried in his back yard. The mob hires him to kill Demarkov, who is being held by the police in a Brooklyn safe-house, but instead, she seduces him and he is found by his colleagues in a compromising position.

Demarkov is a case study in Ayn Rand's dictum that in a struggle between criminals, where the initiation of force determines the mode of interaction, the more ruthless will win. While Jack wants to live a life of crime while keeping the benefits of middle-class domesticity, Demarkov is fully depraved and uncompromisingly brutal. A succubus (she literally ends up sitting on Grimaldi's chest in almost all of their indoor scenes) she combines intelligence and ravishing beauty with the soul of a psychopath. She taunts Jack with the possibility of a partnership. Mona has her charms. She is exotic, brilliant, glamorous, and seems fully self-assured. But when she finally tells Jack of her first "love," and how she left his body on the beach where they had their one encounter, we see that Grimaldi's hope for a possible match is nothing more than fatal wishful thinking.

This fast-paced and very sytlized movie while not gorey in the sickening manner of a horror film, is incredibly violent, so much so as to be over the top. Yet, as it always furthers the plot, the brutality is not gratuitous. We see Grimaldi strangled, bloodied and maimed. Demarkov is shot and loses a limb. Mob Boss Don Falcone (Roy Scheider) gets his comeuppance in a darkly humorous scene.

It is Lena Olin's sultry black widow performance that has made this movie a cult classic. In a climactic scene, where Demarkov has captured and handcuffed Grimaldi to a bed, baring her prosthetic arm, asks as she mounts him, "with or without?" The answer is without.

For movie stills, see

Here is the theatrical trailer:

Read Femmes Fatales, Part II

No comments: