Bloody Child: Nina Menkes Most Powerful Film?

Independent director Nina Menkes continued to explore alienation in “The Bloody Child,” her most powerful film to date.

A meditation on violence, inspired by the real and infused with the surreal, it’s loosely based on an actual incident in which a Marine was arrested for murdering his wife and burying her in the Mojave Desert. The murder represents an intersection of different kinds of violence. On the most obvious level, it’s a case of homicide, but implicit in the narrative is an indictment of the mass media and the military for perpetuating violence.

“Bloody Child” is at once an anatomy of a specific murder and a meditation on violence, gender, and power. In most American films, violence serves as a plot point and is related to external events, whereas Menkes is interested in the “inner condition” of violence, the constellation inside individuals that causes violence. Rather than assign the blame, she is looking at the trap that links the victim, the perpetrator, and the investigator.

Subtitled “An Interior of Violence,” the film examines the echoes of the shock waves that crime sets off in the lives of all those involved. Like ripples in a pond, the murder impinges on everyone. A collective portrait of damage, Menkes described the film as “a vision of hell, because the real evil goes unnamed and unrecognized.”

Menkes repeats one unsettling image: an enraged marine captain (played by Tinka) shoving the murderer’s face into the bloody remains of his victim. The sequence implicates the viewers, forcing them to feel the murderous rage. Menkes explained: “It’s not that there’s one moment of violence and then it’s contained and resolved. There’s no sense of closure. The violence of the murder is ricocheting around and has nowhere to go.”

Tinka serves as Nina’s alter ego, allowing the director to explore her own psyche. The powerful alchemy with Tinka may explain the intensity of Menkes’s films. Is it like Cassavetes’ relationship with Gena Rowlands, in which the various roles Rowlands played in his movies could be seen as one character on a single trajectory Is Tinka playing one evolving persona as she moves from one film to another

Menkes finds mainstream narrative to be as predetermined as a codified language. She quotes Angela Carter, who believes that women will be lulled by the propaganda of romantic stereotypes until they have the courage to believe in the truth of their own experience.

For Menkes, that courage is the bottom line, because most people don’t have access to their own experience. Menkes’s fiercely personal oeuvre is marked by visual experimentation and feminist critique, along with intimate exploration of her own psyche. “My struggle as a woman and artist is to allow myself to be who I am,” Menkes said. That sounds easy, but it’s not: “A lot of women are struggling with the idea of themselves as subjects.”

Menkes holds that power means “to not look in the mirror and say, ‘I have a wrinkle, therefore I am less valuable.’ To not internalize it.” She asserts: “Women are denigrated in our society, they’re held in contempt, violence against women is rampant. As a woman, if you pick up on any of those vibrations, you will either become political, or you’re going to believe there are some things not good about you.”