Sundance Review: Bradley Rust Gray’s ‘blood’

Albeit beautifully shot and made tolerable by the warm presence of Carla Juri in the leading role, blood is a frustratingly indulgent study of emotional recovery after the loss of a loved one. This fourth feature by Bradley Rust Gray is splendidly appointed with locations in Japan and Iceland and an appreciation of emotional openness expressed by all the characters. All the same, the mostly short scenes of recent widow Chloe handling her grief day by day possess little compelling drama and are handicapped by a scruffy Japanese male lead who just doesn’t match up with his appealing female counterpart in any credible way. As with the director’s previous work, you come out of it wondering who this film was made for.


Gray, whose little-seen films over the past two decades are Salt, The Exploding Boy and Jack and Diane, has developed a style that as much as anything likes to position its actors in fantastically attractive settings; a typical scene involves a single shot in which a person or persons start far away and gradually walk closer and closer to the camera, even though the sound remains consistently clear and steady. It’s no way to develop a dynamic within a scene or to reveal anything other than actors working in colorful surroundings.

The writer-director’s style is entirely observational rather than involving; it does nothing to pull you into the story. As we watch Chloe (the appealing and emotionally accessible Juri) arrive in Japan, where she has lived before, and begin to attempt to cope with her husband’s death, we get a little introduction to soba preparation while trying to adjust to a language barrier that mostly forces everyone to be polite but awkward while trying to communicate; it certainly rules out any deep discussion about anything important, most of all Chloe’s emotional and mental states.

Gray is quoted as saying that he aspired to match the feel and tone of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Café Lumiere and the late, great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. Well, great, who wouldn’t? (OK, Michael Bay wouldn’t.) But wanting and doing are two different things, and Gray comes across as something of a cultural tourist here as he chronicles the admirable efforts of Chloe as she deals, on a day-to-day basis, with a loss that only time will truly help her manage.

The opening shot is absolutely stunning, revealing more layers to the city in one composition than you might have thought imaginable; through it all, Eric Lin’s cinematography is lovely. Inevitably, then, it’s all somewhat downhill from there. On a train, Chloe has flashbacks of life with her husband, of time they spent in Iceland. She learns about refined soba preparation, does some shopping, and there’s a scene devoted entirely to a Japanese woman trying to properly pronounce the English word “probably.”

At its core, this is a film about healing and the time it takes. Unfortunately, the key relationship in this regard is between Chloe and her old friend Toshi (musician Takashi Ueno). But the latter doesn’t speak English very well at all, so, for starters, it’s hard to understand him. For this reason, their interactions seem entirely superficial and usually result in giving up trying to say anything complex or meaningful. Instead, Toshi just sort of laughs and Chloe smiles politely, with little of substance being communicated.

In all events, there is a significant discrepancy between what looks to have been intended by the filmmakers — a potential healing relationship between Chloe and Toshi — and the reality of it. Nor can one at all root for it, as Toshi is so scruffy, unkempt and inarticulate compared to Chloe’s natural, unaffected attractiveness that it’s not remotely appealing to imagine them together. Bewilderingly, she laughs — in a nice way — at almost everything he says. Since they can’t communicate all that well, most of their talks end in a bit of giggling and giving up trying to more seriously connect.

Many of blood’s scenes are just snippets, little bits or anecdotes that the writers might have thought would be revelatory or amusing; sometimes they are, but they don’t amount to much, even if Chloe obligingly laughs at nearly everything Toshi says. Certainly there are moments of beauty and Juri keeps you in the film for the most part, but this is an observational work far more than a dramatic one. Long before the film is over, you’re are convinced that it’s time for her to move on.

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