Official Still

Easily, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is the best feature to screen at this year’s New Orleans Film Festival. 

It helps to understand that the movie takes place on Nov. 8, 2016, Election Day, which coincides with the closing of a Las Vegas dive bar (It’s an interesting set dressing, considering the film was actually shot in New Orleans).

The day of Trump’s eventual ascent is something I’m sure many remember with either fondness or despair; we all knew where we were and what we were doing. In Bloody Nose, the results of the election pour out in a trickle onto the TV above the bar, but not nearly as fast as drinks and sorrow are poured out on the ground floor.

For the patrons and dedicated denizens (mostly denizens), this night isn’t about Hillary or Donald or America even; it’s about one last hurrah at home. 

Or… maybe it is about America. At that time. In that moment. 

The film needs not that lagniappe of thematics or allegory to be excellent, mind you. In fact, if it did, it wouldn’t care for it all that much. Bloody Nose— a Sundance Film Fest favorite— isn’t really about the bar itself, but the people who made the bar one of their own and who the bar helped bring together. 

All throughout, the New Orleans-based filmmaking duo The Ross Bros and their intimate crew criss-cross between conversations and unseen gestures not so much with a fly on the wall technique, but a barfly passing by approach.

The photography is oh-so-casual that occasionally the cameramen catch one another in mirrors or just walking around and observing. Or mingling. For them, it would just be a mingle, as the odds & sods of characters who appear, disappear, and reappear know each other far past the point of mere mingles. 

Official Trailer

New Orleans’ own actor of film and theatre, Michael Martin, has gotten the brunt of the acting praise for the film, and rightfully so. Not an expression nor a line goes to waste from his exhausted visage or his wiser-than-himself, kindly attitude. Martin plays himself here, or rather a version/alternate timeline variation. He practically lives out of the establishment, what one can only imagine as the stable force in his life.

It’s closing time, but he’ll be the last of the krewe to leave. And when he does, he’ll leave with a goodbye quote to end all others. One that’s said for himself, and underheard by the last bartenders there.

If these stools could talk, you know. 

The main thread of the film is the clock winding down on the place, from morning to morning. There might be an election going on, there might be restless kids hanging around the parking lot, but there are things that need to be said and done inside. For those many who aren’t even in the “Middle Class” of the country— the one that needs all the rebuilding, it seems— camaraderie is an essential necessity. It takes a village, so to speak. 

Peter Elwell & Michael Martin in a clip from the Official Trailer

One of the more profound scenes exemplifies this notion. It’s between Michael Martin and the late Peter Elwell.

Elwell plays (and I’m certain was) a promising young man whose happy-go-lucky behavior and enthusiasm perks up anyone he’s nearby. Even Martin’s character who, in this bit, is lying face-up on the bar’s couch. Elwell is crawled on top, and they’re looking right at one another. Martin, perhaps tipsy or perhaps just taken by Elwell’s joy, tries in earnest to provide some advice: Don’t spend your life in bars, essentially. They smile into each other’s eyes as Martin maintains his fatherly tone. 

Then, we’re on to the next conversation. The jukebox changes records, and a new song plays. 

The hands at this keyboard are shaking a bit, just recalling these wonderfully resonant moments from this incredible exercise in community.

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is the kind of film that has such a great sense of what feels reel and what is real. You almost could reach into the screen and grab a smoke, as it beats 3D every day of the week and then some. 

Long-ish-ly typed, this is the best feature film at this year’s New Orleans Film Festival.

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Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is available on VOD, on blu-ray, and will be screened outdoors in its “Louisiana premiere” at the 31st New Orleans Film Festival on 11/11.

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Bill Arceneaux
Bill Arceneaux is a local New Orleans independent film critic & writer, who has written for publications from Big Easy Magazine to Film Threat to Occupy to The Hammond Daily Star. He’s a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved. One of his favorite Louisiana-made movies is the almost forgotten WUSA.