Directed by Diane Bell and starring Jessica Biel and Zosia Mamet, Bleeding Heart is more Thelma and Louise than Thelma and Louise. From the moment the film opens, the viewer is fully aware of the tense nature of the film and the problems that will arise for these characters. Bell doesn’t try to trick her audience into thinking that problems won’t arise when these two sisters reunite. On the contrary, she sets up a thriller-like tone for the film so as to keep viewers on their toes and does indeed deliver on the intensity at the film’s climax. The film is shot rather melancholically, with deep, dark blue hues and cloudy lighting so as to give the film an upsetting nature.
Adopted May (Biel) has just found her half-sister Shiva (Mamet). The 34-year-old yogic May lives a seemingly perfect life with her equally perfect, yogic boyfriend Dex (Edi Gathegi). They teach yoga classes in their living room and are looking to expand their business when Shiva bursts into their lives. Shiva was raised by her and May’s biological mother until the age of 12, when their mother passed away. Since then, Shiva has fallen towards the wrong side of the tracks and now at age 24, is living with an abusive boyfriend who also doubles as her pimp. That’s right; if things weren’t already bad for Shiva, May finds out that the so-called massages Shiva claims to give actually come with happy endings.
May is at once elated and transformed when she finds Shiva living in a typical 20-year-olds apartment; random writing fills her walls and a disco ball hangs where it shouldn’t. May begins to worry for Shiva’s safety when Shiva texts her one night for a rescue from a bar after getting into an altercation with her boyfriend. May whisks Shiva away for a “lady date” the following morning and they end up in May’s adopted mother’s second home in San Diego. May’s mother is less than pleased with Shiva’s existence and leaves the two girls to hang out on their own. There, they engage in typical bonding rituals like smoking marijuana and listening to music and swimming in the massive pool. It is in this scene that Bell’s direction takes on a beautifully wonderful life of its own. The girls swim while simultaneously letting go of all of the problems and obstacles that stand in the way of their sisterhood. Every shot as the two sisters swim is a reminder that both are at once high on drugs but also on the bond the two naturally share.
Things take a turn for the worse however, when the girls must return to their actual lives the following morning. Shiva’s boyfriend, in an impassioned speech about the Shiva goddess shrine the yogic couple houses in their home, implores with May to stay away from his girlfriend while also threatening her if she does come near them. The once peaceful, passive May grows stronger as she defends her relationship with her sister, going so far as to wield a gun when she is threatened with losing her. It is in this scene that May not only becomes a multi-dimensional character but that the viewer is also forced to confront love in its most primordial form: the love between two sisters. Shiva cries and begs May to leave her alone because she feels that the only person that will ever love her is her abusive boyfriend. May, in one of Biel’s strongest scenes, tells Shiva that she loves her. Without words, May is able to convey to Shiva that her love, although not romantic, is stronger than anything Shiva could possibly ask for from another person. It is at this moment that Shiva and May’s relationship becomes more real than any other relationship present in the film. It is at this moment that these two sisters become one – May, once tragically happy in her regular life, now has to take care of another being, a being that not only reminds her of their mother, but that she must also mother in order to protect. Shiva welcomes this mothering by her new half-sister because she is desperately in need of rescuing.
Director Diane Bell probably doesn’t know the extent of beauty and feelings and emotions present in her film. While mirroring Thelma and Louise in its tragic presentation of two women against the world, Bleeding Heart surpasses that by making these two sisters so different but inherently the same. They share a mother and a connection deeper than any relationship they can share outside of each other. May will do whatever it take to protect her sister and we see that in every move she makes from the moment she meets her. Bleeding Heart is exceptional in its depiction of love, even if it’s not the depiction of love we’re used to watching on the big screen. With no distributor as of yet, Bleeding Heart premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival on April 16th.