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Grimmfest Easter: The Woman With Leopard Shoes

Sly and sophisticated as its burglar protagonist, The Woman With Leopard Shoes is a noir-thriller that looks to and reutilises classic noir and early giallo aesthetics, while never stepping outside its comfort zone in aspiration to the now-dead style.

The Woman With Leopard Shoes, a passion project from writer/director/editor/sound-designer Alexis Bruchon, has a starkly simple premise: how does he make it out?

We follow The Burglar (Paul Bruchon) as he’s sent to steal a valuable wooden box from the house of a wealthy lawyer, Boyer. When a party starts in the house mid-burglary, the Burglar is forced into the study, and thus begins a bottle narrative where the burglar is encouraged (by his employer and his own ravenous pursuit of knowledge) to delve deeper into the Boyer’s dark past. That this is conveyed with nary a word spoken (though a few texted) is genuinely remarkable, with lead actor Paul Bruchon’s expressions—lit in wonderfully bold chiaroscuro—doing the heavy lifting. Despite the modern setting, the film feels delightfully analog—from the mystery-solving to the visual and sonic styles.

It’s hard to overstate just how much of an achievement in overt passion The Woman With Leopard Shoes is. Alexis Bruchon clearly poured his all into this project and it shows. The film is delivered with a nostalgic, but singular, style: a dedicated approach to suave, jazzy thrillers, with many of the hard edges shaved off and smoothed to a fine polish.

Leopard Shoes is a film willing to embrace past trends while resistant to taking the whole package—this is no morality play like so much film noir. There is no gruff hitman, hardboiled detective, or queered villain—only the style, the sound, the texture. Eyes peering through the dark. A murder weapon fully framed. Beautiful music that whines in surprise and trundles coolly through mundanity. Bruchon’s film is an exercise in pure aesthetics Less an adaptation, more a translation, a dead language spoken by a modern tongue.

In inhabiting this aesthetic the film, penned also by Alexis Bruchon, lacks anything in the way of an interesting narrative. The unfolding plot is necessarily less interesting than anything currently going on, the solutions less compelling than the puzzles themselves. At best it’s a charming little nod to the complexities of the genre, at worst a strain on the chain of events. This is a problem that accelerates toward the film’s climax, a climax that feels less like a stunning finisher and more like a cough of exhaustion as the film runs out of garden paths to go down.

Oddly, because of this, and despite its inspirations in a historically lauded style, Leopard Shoes is remarkably unpretentious and honest in its means. From the opening shots, Bruchon ensures us he knows exactly what he’s doing. Would that the film wasn’t borderline silent it would be screaming its noir influences from the rooftops. It begins how it begins, it ends when it ought to: when we’re done. I am usually an opponent of “auteurism,’ and for what it’s worth I still am, but it’s hard to deny seeing this as a singular effort by an incredibly devoted individual.

A black-and-white shot from The Woman With Leopard Shoes shows The Burglar staring into the camera.

But Grimmfest is ostensibly a horror festival, and this is a horror site, so let’s talk fear. Tension is immediate and brilliant, helped by a thumping soundtrack that shoves away the jazz and pummels the speakers like a pounding heartbeat heard in the head.

Sound effects blast, every brush of clothing a tempest, every footstep an earthquake. In the silence, in hiding, everything is a potential giveaway. It’s meticulous, and the near-total lack of dialogue, combined with the emphasis on sound effects, gives the film a wonderful tactility, where papers rustle satisfyingly, and taps of fingers feel characterful. It’s the joy of opening a puzzle box, playing with old cameras, running fingers across blistered paint. The added risk of capture adds a tremendous amount of texture. I say this only half-jokingly: this film is why they added the clicks to iPhone keyboards.

Through this tactility, the whole thing feels determined to locate you with the Burglar, beneath the bed, sorting through evidence, panicking, and hiding. Characters beyond the Burglar simply do not have faces (think The Peanuts’ adults). This is good: if they had faces, they would see you, you do not want to be seen. The horror here is the horror of potentialities. It’s the horror of the current moment, the impending future. The more time moves forward, the more options there are to get caught. In this bubble, we, and the Burglar, are free in brilliant blissful tension to explore the present. With this jazz, with these sounds, with this mystery.

While the thrills of the plot aren’t so deliberately exciting, it’s the small mundanities that count, simple acts of picking a lock or rifling through drawers become compelling little routines, no matter their end point. This is a film devoted to the here and now, the immediate, brilliant present. While the plot becomes overly convoluted (in the trend of noir and giallo), the dedication to the small stuff is deliberate and admirable. It’s not the destination, or even the meaning of the steps to get there, it’s that the steps are there in the first place. They, in and of themselves, make the film so engaging.

The Woman With Leopard Shoes is what happens when you take the incredible passion of short filmmaking and stretch it out to feature-length losing only a marginal amount of the condensed pressure. It’s gorgeous, charming, and immediate. Despite a dry plot, Bruchon’s film is a delight that could not stop me from smiling ear-to-ear.

The Woman With Leopard Shoes had its Northern UK premiere at Grimmfest Easter 2022. The trailer can be found here.


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Written by Riley Wade

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