In "The Bloody Child," one of the older films featured last week at the Arsenals International Film Forum, Nina Menkes retells the true story of a marine who murdered his wife after returning from the first Gulf War through a disturbing, inter-cut pastiche. There are flat desert landscapes, vague allusions to "MacBeth" (at one point the guilty marine is seen trying to wash his blood-soaked arms in a hotel bathroom), and soulless takes on the white male in the military machine. Think of it, in its own way, as a meditation on American loneliness in the tradition of Terrence Malick's "Badlands."
At a press conference last week, a woman asked Menkes if there was any comfort to be gleaned from her film. Her curt answer, "There is no comfort." Afterwards, she offered The Baltic Times a more detailed explanation of what she meant:
The film, Menkes' most recent, came out 10 years ago, and though some may see it as eerily prescient of our current situation, Menkes feels differently. Her film is about "violence as a confused response to problem-solving." She has no love for Bush, but she doesn't think he's trying to solve anything. (Menkes is one of those people who thinks the president was complicit in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.)
"I'm tying the U.S. military, this whole macho thing of relating to the worldâ€¦There's plenty of black marines, there's plenty of Mexican marines." But she wanted to center the film around the "average white male marine" to make a point.
Dodgy politics aside, the meaning of her film is not so specific to the moment. The film is "less [about] the experience of the West, just the depths of alienation."
Audience responses have varied. She remembers showing it at Lucarno some time ago, where it met half with boos and half with cheers. In some ways, you could say it is far more polarizing than Japanese-style gorefests like "Pulp Fiction" that were popular in the mid-90s, when "The Bloody Child" was made. Menkes hated those films with a passion. "It's a complete insanity to make violence into entertainment."
Menkes cast her film with real Gulf War marine vets, some of whom seemed to share her feelings. "One of them told me, 'If they wouldn't make it into a macho thing to go to war, who would go?'"