With no real substance behind its images it’s understandable why some people would see the film as nothing more than a provocation.
When Code Blue premiered at Cannes last year, a warning was posted outside the theatre saying the film might “hurt audience feelings.” The Cannes audiences always love a good provocation, and based on the reports coming out of the first screening it sounded like Code Blue delivered. By the last 10 minutes so many people were heading for the doors that they had to be held open for the remainder of the movie. While Code Blue’s reputation probably does the film a disservice since it’s not worthy of the reaction it got at Cannes, it still fails at what it tries to accomplish.
Marian (Bien de Moor) is a nurse who barely has a life outside of her work. She has no friends or family and her large apartment is mostly empty with piles of unpacked boxes left in a corner. She spends her days at work taking care of the sick and, depending on who she feels is suffering the most, quietly euthanizes them. It’s obvious that Marian’s isolation is by choice as she constantly suffers from having no human connection, leading to some bizarre and shocking ways of releasing her frustrations. One night she witnesses a woman being raped outside of her apartment building and notices a man from a neighbouring building (Lars Eidenger) staring at her. The two soon start to make a connection, but the “bond” might be too much for Marian to handle.
There’s no denying that Urszula Antoniak has a clear vision of what she wants to accomplish in Code Blue. The film is shot in a precise style that’s supposed to heighten Marian’s feelings of loneliness. Jasper Wolf’s cinematography is impressive (especially at a party sequence late in the movie) and helps carry the sterile environment of her job into her personal life.
The problem with Code Blue is that, as a character study, it fails to make Marian someone worth looking at. From the beginning it established that Marian is isolated from everyone around her but there’s almost nothing else known about her. Instead of expanding on Marian’s loneliness in other ways, for the next 75 or so minutes Antoniak simply repeats the same thing over and over. Bien de Moor gives it her all as Marian but no matter how hard she tries to add more depth, the script and direction’s relentless beating of the same drum overpower everything in the film.
As Code Blue ends with a brutal and explicit sequence, the whole thing feels very shallow. There are several shocking moments that explain the extreme response it received, but these scenes are more about Marian’s desperation for an emotional connection than getting a reaction. If Code Blue’s ideas weren’t so simple-minded, those scenes might have had more of an impact. With no real substance behind its images it’s understandable why some people would see the film as nothing more than a provocation.