There have been too few films over the past decade or so that address what has become an all too frequent condition with our returning soldiers from the Middle East – PTSD. Ric Roman Waugh brought us a powerhouse documentary, “That Which I Love Destroys Me”, in which soldiers explained in their own words what they were experiencing and what was their “normal” after being in conflict zones. There have been a few others. Narrative films, however, have fallen even farther by the wayside, especially when focusing on female soldiers, an exception being Liza Johnson’s “Return” in 2011 starring Linda Cardellini. Thanks to writer/director Remy Auberjonois and co-writer Kate Nowlin, BLOOD STRIPE is now added to the mix.
BLOOD STRIPE is the story of returning soldier “Sarge”, a former Marine whose life is anything but “normal” when she comes home after her third tour of duty in Afghanistan to the small town in which she lives with her husband. Despite her best efforts, she cannot conform to the “normal” everyone demands of her. Her days of normal were going door-to-door checking for IED’s. Trash bags and boxes were suspect. A noise could mean the difference between life or death. Darkness screamed danger. Doing dishes and mixing sour cream in potato salad is nowhere near normal for Sarge. And the VA doctors can’t see her for 129 days.
Starring Kate Nowlin as “Sarge”, this is a tour de force performance as Nowlin infuses the character with nervous ticks and unacceptable habits, doing all without flinching or showing emotion. Nowlin is a controlled emotional powerhouse, but ever so carefully allows cracks to the paranoia-laden veneer that let us see shades of who she once was but who she will never be again. It’s a delicate balance that is riveting, particularly when Nowlin shares the screen with Rusty Schwimmer, Tom Lipinski or Rene Auberjonois.
Schwimmer’s Dot runs a summer camp, the last place that Sarge seems to have a happy connection with. Lipinski is a local fisherman in the area who, like Sarge, is a loner, hiding from something, afraid to join in life. Rene Auberjonois is Pastor Art who brings a church group to this camp and who subtly counsels Sarge.
An emotionally intense film, director Remy Auberjonois’ approach is measured and well paced, building on the beauty of the North Woods region and the award-worthy cinematography of Radium Cheung, capturing the quiet and calm of nature while juxtapositioning that with Sarge’s unsettling emotional fragility. A strong and well crafted, yet nuanced script, the tacit commentary on PTSD and the lack of proper services and assistance to returning soldiers speaks sensitively and loudly.
One of my “must see” films at Los Angeles Film Festival 2016 where BLOOD STRIPE made its world premiere, following a successful festival run, BLOOD STRIPE now makes its way into the distribution chain for all to see. BLOOD STRIPE is a “Must See Film” for all Americans.