The feature debut of writer/director Jérémie Guez (who also co-wrote Dominique Rocher’s The Night Eats The World), A Bluebird In My Heart (Tu ne tueras point) is adapted from ex-con Dannie M. Martin’s hard-boiled novel The Dishwasher. Its English title, however, is a refrain taken from Charles Bukowki’s confessional poem Bluebird. Although neither that poem nor its poet is ever directly referenced in the film beyond its title, A Bluebird In My Heart certainly reflects its main theme: the vulnerabilities and sensitivities that men have to repress to maintain their image of masculine toughness. For its tattooed, bearded protagonist Danny (Roland Møller) is, like Bukowski, a working-class factotum who conceals his deeper feelings beneath a brooding, taciturn surface.
Fresh out of jail and still required to wear an ankle bracelet, Danny settles in a dingy hotel run by single mother Laurence (Veerle Baetens), and agrees to replaster one of her rooms in exchange for a month’s rent, while also taking a job washing dishes in a nearby Chinese restaurant. Keen to lay low and stay as clean as the kitchen space he meticulously clears of grime and dirt, Danny likes to keep to himself – but Laurence’s teenaged daughter Clara (Lola Le Lann), whose father is in prison, is desperate for a father figure, and ever so slowly Danny settles into that rôle. Then, when Clara is attacked, Danny responds in the only way he knows how, and trouble once more comes looking for him.
“Try to be patient,” Danny tells Laurence at one point in A Bluebird In My Heart, in words that also modulate the viewer’s approach to the narrative slow burn – all deliberately paced tensions building to various explosions. Although the film is shot in handheld and adheres to a naturalistic style, its plotting is resonates with the mannered tropes of a classic noir. For while Danny may be out of prison, he is still very much caught in a trap that is in part of his own making, in part a mechanism of circumstance – an existential trap whose steel jaws close ever tighter around him. The story, though full of clichés, is pared down to its barest minimalist skeleton, as we watch this man always struggling – and never fully able – to leave behind his history of violence and to live, in his halfway house, something akin to a normal family life. Like the stray dog that Clara keeps trying to befriend, Danny is all at once endearing and menacing, with Møller’s quiet, contained performance leaving us in no doubt that Danny is capable, but never sure, until he shows us, exactly of what.
A Bluebird In My Heart was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2018.