November 13, 2019 A Bluebird in My Heart (Movie Review)
A Bluebird in My Heart sounds like something someone from The Birds would get – that or a fancy way to describe a heart attack. Instead, it is a new Crime Drama about the long, hard road to redemption set to make its debut on Shudder in the US, UK and Canada as an exclusive on November 14th, 2019.
Directed by Jérémie Guez (The Night Eats the World 2018), it tells the story of an ex-con called Danny (Roland Møller: Land of Mine 2015, Atomic Blonde 2017) who is housebound to a small hotel via an ankle monitor as part of his parole. The hotel owner, Laurence (Veerle Baetens: Loft 2008, The Team series), understands, as she is married to a felon currently serving time. Yet things get tentative when her teenage daughter Clara (Lola Le Lann: One Wild Moment 2015, War on Beasts series) starts getting too close to Danny, as she is looking for a father figure and thinks he would fit the bill. He disagrees, but when she is assaulted, Danny has no choice but to face up to his past demons.
Guez also wrote the script, but this film is also an adaptation of a 1995 book called The Dishwasher by Dannie M. Martin. The plots are similar enough, only the book’s protagonist was called Bill. So, the name change might be a little shout-out to its roots.
A Belgian-French co-production, you should expect subtitles, though the sub-averse will be glad to hear there are oases of English dialogue in the film – mostly when the other characters interact with Danny. Laurence and Clara may talk to each other and to other characters in French, but Danny is English-only and manages to chase those centered letters away while he is around. Still, it is a nice way of showing how different Danny is from everyone else. He is an introverted, Danish ex-con stuck in Belgium, trying to figure out how to reconnect with the outside world, and he gains some sense of purpose through work, like washing dishes. Though ultimately, and with varying degrees of success, he gains a proper rapport with Laurence and Clara.
Not that he immediately becomes a stepdad; it is a gradual process, and not one with a straightforward route. Danny and Laurence would rather that things stay as they are – he is the guest, and she is the landlady – except Clara ends up inadvertently bringing them closer together. She is a troubled kid looking for peace and Laurence wants what is best for her, while Danny grows increasingly protective towards her. It is a common bond that might make up a new family unit.
Just a bit of a shame it takes a sexual assault to get the ball rolling. Not because it is particularly bad or tasteless: it is reasonably respectful and sober enough. The issue is more that it is a cliché: the woman gets raped so the hero must avenge her honor. This trope was in the book too, and criticisms against it were not as loud in the Nineties as they are in the 2010s. So, it is more a case of A Bluebird in My Heart inheriting the sins of its ‘father’ The Dishwasher.
That said, how is the rest of the film? Is there something more to it than that? Well, the direction is kind of nice. It goes for some symbolism – shots of flying aircraft for freedom, Danny’s repairs coinciding with his building social links, etc. Some of the action shots get a little shaky yet they look adequately brutal overall. Francophones would be better at judging Baetens and Le Lann’s French dialogue, yet they handle English well. Le Lann’s delivery in her early scenes can be a bit shaky (bit of a British tint to it too oddly enough), but it gets better quickly.
The film’s top performance ends up coming from Møller. He does a good job at playing the ex-con trying to do good. His attempts feel earnest, as does his indignation when he finds the assaulter (Jonathan Robert). It also helps that he looks intimidating enough to make one initially wary, and to hold one’s own in the action scenes.
However, there are drawbacks. The assault sequence itself is not necessarily a negative as much as it is a heads-up for viewers. The biggest drawback here is that it rushes things in the last half of the film. The first half may be a little slow yet it reaches a good pace for the audience to connect to the characters. After that, it zips from plot point to plot point with little time to build up tension. Dramatic tension is teased, but it ends up being a damp squib.
So, ultimately, what is A Bluebird in My Heart worth? There is some solid direction and acting at play, particularly from Møller. The pace, tension and drama are strong for the first half of the film, and it even handles a sensitive subject in a sensible manner. However, the subject itself is part of an old-hat trope, and it clears out its atmosphere by rushing things. It went for gold and ended up with silver; still precious yet it could have been better. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives A Bluebird in My Heart 3.5 out of 5 stars.