Remy Auberjonois and Kate Nowlin’s BLOOD STRIPE is a serious, unhurried, welcome drama detailing the failing efforts of a female Marine to reintegrate with her family and society after a physically and emotionally scarring Middle East tour of duty. This independent drama, the first directed by Auberjonois, son of character actor Rene Auberjonois (a permanently welcome presence who appears here), doesn’t over-reach and is quite tempered in its approach.
While the subject of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is all-important, BLOOD STRIPE, co-written by its star Nowlin (Auberjonois’ wife), indeed dramatizes situations we have seen familiar variations on since THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES and COMING HOME (one advertising tag line for BLOOD STRIPE details “the struggle to come home”). However, simply by having a female protagonist, BLOOD STRIPE provides a fresh, involving perspective. Nowlin’s character was a fully engaged combat participant, and when her family and friends try to throw her a celebratory homecoming party, she can’t handle it, leaving her husband (familiar and talented character actor Chris Sullivan) behind and escaping, like a fugitive, to an isolated lake in Minnesota where she distracts herself with activity and alcohol.
I recently edited an article published by the Queens Free Press, “Welcome to Downtown Brooklyn” by Christopher Sullivan (not the above-named actor). Sullivan, a student, describes how problematical the return home and adjustment to College life is. Sullivan is more “at peace” in the combat zone where he at least knows he must size up every situation as life or death and where his day is simple: “Wake up, grab my weapon, load a magazine in it, make sure my other magazines were loaded, put on a bulletproof vest, and walk out into a world where half its citizenry wanted me dead. “ As I watched the smart, thoughtful BLOOD STRIPE, I thought of Sullivan’s unpretentious but direct plea for understanding: “People always wonder why veterans end up with post-traumatic stress disorder, I say it’s because they simply forget how to be what is considered normal, and the people around them criticize them for it. Instead of listening to the PTSD sufferer, they throw a label on his condition, pour pills down his throat and say deal with it. “
No one is an enemy of the Sergeant portrayed in this film – she is at war with herself, unable to sleep, paranoid. The local V.A. hospital will make her wait 129 days to receive mental health treatment, and Nowlin’s coiled performance efficiently transmits her anguish and confusion without devolving into “award-me!” histrionics. BLOOD STRIPE (which refers to a scarlet stripe that runs down the dress trousers of officers of the United States Marine Corps) pays total respect to the Sergeant’s plight while generating sufficient drama to build audience interest, without the film feeling manipulative or overly didactic, not an easy feat.
Credit goes to Nowlin, Auberjonois, and cinematographer Radium Cheung (who recently lensed THE DROWNING, reviewed here) for making a film that feels honest in its choices and intent. BLOOD STRIPE is a most-welcome surprise and hopefully will gain traction as a Video On Demand choice if not theatrically (it IS currently playing in downtown Manhattan, but in the current cinematic climate it will be difficult to maintain theatrical traction); BLOOD STRIPE is a persuasive reminder that any environment can be a battlefield.