A loving ode to both stylish footwear and the 1958 film Elevator to the Gallows, Alexis Bruchon’s The Woman with Leopard Shoes (2020) is a noir-infused thriller with experimental minimalism on its mind. Featuring a midcentury-style jazz score and shot in striking black-and-white that takes more than a few cues from Louis Malle’s classic, Bruchon’s film is a confident low-budget crime story.
Bruchon has most of the credits on the film: writer, director, cinematographer, editor, producer, and composer. That focus of vision is evident in the film, as we see the majority of the action through the eyes of an unnamed burglar (Paul Bruchon) who has been hired by a mysterious woman to steal a box from a house. The job seems to go well until partygoers arrive at the house and force the burglar to stay hidden until he can find a way out. What follows is a tense guessing game filled with double-crosses and near-misses. Though the brief runtime gets slightly repetitive at times, the film keeps viewers engaged with its narrative twists and turns.
The central mystery is a game of cat-and-mouse between two lawyers who will stop at nothing to one-up their rival. Bruchon drops clues cleverly, allowing the burglar to happen upon documents as organically as possible within the budgetary and location constraints of the film. It’s a remarkably assured microbudget mystery that relies on text messages to move its plot forward, using eye-level views of partygoers’ shoes and the sound of muffled voices to build secondary characters and ratchet up the suspense.
The burglar makes several attempts to escape the study where he found the box he’s been charged with stealing, but he is foiled at every turn by chance and circumstance. An amorous couple nearly finds him hiding behind furniture, and a pair of policemen who arrive later on investigate the strange noises he makes when trying to disguise his presence. Bruchon turns the small filming space into a wealth of opportunities for near-misses: the burglar hides under a bed, behind a shower curtain, and behind the back of one particularly oblivious man. The viewer finds themselves rooting for the burglar to make it out undetected; he’s one of the only characters whose face we see, so we identify more with him than any other character. As we learn just how in over his head he really is, we can’t help but sympathize with him.
The Woman with Leopard Shoes is a clever crime thriller that makes intelligent use of its small budget and confined location. Assured and stylish, the film is a fascinating example of modern French noir and an intriguing vision from Alexis Bruchon. It uses its limitations to its advantage, drawing inspiration from classic French cinema yet making its own unique mark on the genre.