Writer/Director Diane Bell’s sophomore film BLEEDING HEARTS, a selection at the last Tribeca Film Festival, was a very personal journey that combined her own experiences with the challenge of making a film with strong female characters. In this case sisters played by Jessica Biel and Zosia Mamet. Biel’s May is a yoga instructor (a vocation once held by Bell in real life) living a clean, somewhat boring life with her yoga instructor boyfriend Dex played by Edi Gathegi. She soon finds her estranged sibling, Mamet’s Shiva, and attempts to create a relationship with her. In doing so she discovers Shiva is being forced into a life of prostitution by her abusive boyfriend Cody played by Joe Anderson. As a result May’s sheltered existence is thrust into chaos.
[Zosia Mamet was born in Randolph, Vermont. She’s the daughter of David Mamet]
The structure of Bell’s script gives May’s good intentions a plausible, downhill spiral. When giving Shiva money doesn’t work, she allows her to move in. When that fails she attempts to leave town with her, and so on. The sister’s bonding is further hampered by Dex’s disapproval and Cody’s physical and mental cruelty. Eventually the female protagonists work together to try and overcome the obstacles put in their way. As a result, for bad or worse, they both see a side of life they never thought existed.
Bell’s writing and directing provide an excellent blueprint for an otherwise good overcoming adversity story. What gives the film its heart are the performances of Biel and Mamet. Biel’s range appears to go wider then in some of her previous roles, which is saying something as most of her previous turns were for substantial parts. Running a roller coaster of emotions including sedate, happy, concerned and fear Biel shows great depth from the inside and out. Mamet is equally stunning as the streetwise victim who accepts her fate yet longs for a better life. Of course Anderson’s performance as Cody provides the perfect antagonist for the actresses to both be moved and unite together.
In promoting BLEEDING HEARTS Bell made mention of the Bechdel Test, a formula by which the importance of female characters in a film is measured by answering the questions “do they have names,” “do they meet,” “do they talk,” etc. This method, combined with her personal experiences and an interest in female violence issues led Bell to a thought-provoking movie that celebrates strength in women.