GFF 2021: The Woman with Leopard Shoes Review
With the exception of an establishing sequence and some brief exterior scenes, The Woman with Leopard Shoes (La Femme aux Chaussures Leopard, 2020) takes place in the confines of a single location, this horror slash thriller following the plight of a nameless burglar (Paul Bruchon) who unexpectedly finds himself trapped inside a room during a job. Instead of that setting hindering the story though, writer-director Alexis Bruchon lets the restrictions work to his advantage, using them to ramp up the tension and tell a mystery that happens in real-time. It’s a bit like an escape room, albeit one with more deadly consequences for our hapless main character.
Shot in black and white and featuring jazzy opening music, Bruchon gives this a pleasing film noir feel right away, setting the mood and hinting at darker things just around the corner. It’s so convincing as a period piece that the sudden reveal of an iPhone is almost jarring, the silent burglar using it as a torch to light his way throughout the quiet house he’s broken into. He’s been tasked with stealing a box and given explicit instructions on how to do it. Sounds like an easy job. Only problem is that when a huge throng of guests turn up for a party, he’s forced to hide himself away, waiting for an opportune moment to slip out. But as he starts to suspect his contact hasn’t told him the full picture, he realises that he might have to take control of the situation.
It’s here that Bruchon’s film becomes delightfully taut and entertaining, his tale unfolding at a steady yet engaging pace as we watch the burglar trying to think of different ways to escape. The amazing sound design enhances that feeling of being trapped, every approaching footstep or creak of the door handle dramatically heightened (which is particularly nerve-racking whenever a noise suddenly pierces the silence) while Bruchon’s ominous score maintains the fraught energy of the narrative – all plucky strings and menacing piano. The gorgeous black and white imagery also adds to the suspense, Bruchon using these noir elements to create an eerie atmosphere, those elongated shadows seeming to hide a million secrets that our burglar is yet to find. Indeed, with its minimal dialogue and silent main character, this is a film where the visuals often tell the story, Bruchon’s fluid camerawork and startlingly close-ups putting us at the heart of the action and helping us follow the plot. It’s a remarkable method that allows us to understand exactly what the voiceless burglar is thinking – something made even more effective by Paul Bruchon’s brilliant performance (his wide-eyed expressions and slight tilts of the head speaking volumes).
Yet it is Bruchon’s ability to break out of the confines of that single location that is particularly impressive, his clever script able to convey a bigger tale about deception and revenge that feeds into that simple premise of a character struggling to escape. Gradually revealed to us via clues that are scattered around the room, Bruchon invites us to play along and piece together the evidence at the same time as the burglar, involving us in the plot in a way that has us gripped. It’s as if we’re stuck next to him, trying to get out too. Bruchon also unravels the mystery with a series of text messages that are sent back and forth between the burglar and his contact – a storytelling device that is sadly less successful. Although it works the first few times, Bruchon often relies on it too heavily, the taut silence and frantic typing unable to keep the tension going when all we’re waiting for is a message that will lazily fill in the gaps for us. It’s an inventive way around the limitations of the setting and narrative, but one that Bruchon should have used a bit more sparingly.
The Woman with Leopard Shoes is a prime example of using what you have at your disposal to create something. Filmed in one location (it was shot in Bruchon’s parents’ house), with a minimal cast and crew (mainly comprised of his family and friends), this is clearly a production made with a lot of passion and determination – all of which comes across onscreen and turns this into an even more enjoyable experience. Yet it’s also wonderful to see how well this works, Bruchon making the most of a small budget and those other restrictions, while rising to the added challenge of using a silent central character. It’s inspiring to watch, and a great film to boot, the mix of noir and modern elements keeping this exciting and gripping. The ending might be a little bit of a let-down, but overall this is a superb concept that effectively uses sound and visuals to tell a story. As a first-time feature, you simply cannot get better than this.