Contemporary film-noir thriller The Woman with Leopard Shoes (original title: La Femme aux Chaussures Leopard) from writer-director Alexis Bruchon is a stellar debut which makes its Scottish premiere at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival. Incorporating elements of giallo, hard-boiled crime thrillers and noir, The Woman with Leopard Shoes is a commanding, impeccably constructed watch.
A thief (Paul Bruchon, who has a debonair sixties cool of a young Serge Gainsbourg) is hired by a mysterious woman to receive a box from a house. The job goes according to plan until the thief finds himself trapped when the homeowners return with numerous party guests. Confined to hiding under beds and in the study, the thief begins to overhear conversations from the guests and learns that the job is not quite as simple as originally thought.
Stylised in black and white, making truly effective use of light and shadow, The Woman with Leopard Shoes aims to conjure up notions of classic cinema despite being set in a contemporary period. This is a well-chosen move which mirrors the film’s dark, claustrophobic tone and further channels the sense of mystery and conspiracy which flows throughout the narrative. A tense opening scene which sees the thief masked to protect his identity meeting with his client surrounded by howling winds, the shadows of trees and the night sky in black white and white is particularly effective at crafting the film’s mood.
An air of classic charm is also added through the film’s opening score – also composed by Brochon – which crafts a sort of elegant sixties style charm, further capturing the director’s clear affection for an old-school crime caper and giallo-inspired thriller. This plays over a sequence showing party members dressing for the occasion, with extreme close-ups of various garments and body parts channelling the focus on fashion and the sensation of materials that was so prevalent in the world of giallo.
Director Alexis Bruchon packs the film with a claustrophobic intensity with the thief confined to small spaces throughout most of the narrative – whether hiding under beds or behind shower curtains, Bruchon captures the thief with a uncomfortable closeness. Lead actor Paul Bruchon channels this sense of confined intensity in a skilled performance that marks his debut feature film appearance. Watching the feet of people within the room, and overhearing their mysterious conversations gives The Woman with Leopard Shoes a further sense of woozy enigmatic appeal. Impressively Paul Bruchon is the only actor in focus for the film and the performer’s presence and skilled turn keeps our attentions held for the full runtime. The filmmaker maintains a thrilling intensity through numerous uncomfortable close-ups of the burglar’s reactions, fast paced editing and close-ups on objects such as twisting door handles – with the initial burglary scene being a fantastic exercise in perfectly constructed suspense and tension.
With sparing use of dialogue, thanks to the thief being the sole character on screen for the most part, much of the narrative is carried through texting conversations between the thief and his employer. This is a savvy way to move the narrative on, whilst revealing the suspenseful intricacies of the crime within which the thief is involved. The more the thief overhears from the party guests, the deeper complexities of the narrative are revealed with the thief realising he may need to turn the tables on his employer.
The immense skill and precision that has gone into The Woman with Leopard Shoes is staggering. Alexis Bruchon’s direction is tremendously suspenseful with the film being put together in a precise and polished manner to ensure it is consistently taut, powerful and unpredictable. Spins on classic giallo and crime trappings as well as sharp aesthetic style and a commanding turn from Paul Bruchon help The Woman with Leopard Shoes shine as a stellar debut.