BERLINALE’20 —’Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets’ is a Riotous, Heartfelt Look at America’s Edges

Department of Motion Pictures

In their ode to the dive bars left on the fringes of the big cities, Bill and Turner Ross weave a compelling tale of a disparate group of people bound together by the space that they share that welcomes each and every one of them. 

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is what is best described as a hybrid film: not wholly fictionalised, but not a straight documentary either, it could best be described as a semi-scripted reality film, more akin to the likes of Jersey Shore or The Only Way is Essex. Even describing it as such, however, feels like a disservice. 

The premise of the film is relatively simple—20s, a dive bar on the edge of Las Vegas where the tourists don’t travel, is having it’s final party. Regulars drift in and out from it’s 8am opening to 5am the next morning when the doors are finally shut for good. They commiserate over their changing lives, get drunk, argue and dance as Black Sabbath blast from the jukebox. But this is not a bar in Las Vegas, it is in New Orleans and these are not regulars, but a cast created by the Ross brothers through endless trawls through their own local dive bars.

Department of Motion Pictures

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets opens with a quote stretched across the screen in a script similar to the scruffy hand-writing of someone scribbling in a hurry: “We hold these truths to be self-evident” — a tongue-in-cheek declaration in a film that plays with the idea of reality. Over the span of the next hour or so —the outcome of an 18 hour shoot— a cast of characters are introduced as the “regulars”, drifting in and out and round the bar like they own the place. 

There’s Michael, a former actor in his late fifties, who we first encounter shaving in the cramped bathroom, full of regrets and with plenty of opinions. There’s Shay, a barmaid trying to keep her son on the straight and narrow as him and his friends, while dealing with everyone with a warm smile and a sharp word. The cast mix with each other exactly the same way you would expect a group of strangers getting slowly drunk over a day, there are good-natured taunts, frayed tempers, flirting and laughter. 

While these aren’t the regulars of a down-trodden bar in Las Vegas, it is very easy to forget that they are essentially strangers as the film progresses and conversations spring from helpful —trying to get people to leave for their jobs— to confrontational —a discussion between generations on their different perspectives on life leaves tempers high. In a Q+A following the screening, the Ross brothers talked about how moments this weren’t constructed, but instead show the cast responding to stimuli inserted by the brothers. 

In essence, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is a snapshot of American life on the fringes of society, a community that is built up from the shared space of a bar, and how it extends far beyond those four walls. Watching it feels like being holed up in your favourite pub, a heart-felt and different examination of a changing America that deserves to be seen.

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets screened at Berlinale between February 24th and March 1st

by Rose Dymock

Rose is a budding film critic, who graduated from the University of Liverpool with an MRes in Film Studies. She’s currently living back home in the Black Country in the West Midlands, juggling working full time and trying to break into criticism. She loves thrillers, great female characters, Al Pacino, and multilingual cinema. She’s not entirely sure if she’s a millennial and she wants a Lord of the Rings tattoo. Find her on twitter @rosedymock or on her website

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