Diane Bell’s Film ‘Bleeding Heart’: Yoga Instructor Loses Inner Peace Over Prostitute Sister’s Violent Pimp

April 21, 2015 Updated: April 23, 2015

Imagine having a powerful yoga practice, a yoga studio, yoga boyfriend, and a cool vintage car? And yet, despite all that inner peace, you, an adoptee, finally discover your biological sister … and she turns out to be a hooker.

And what if the nerve-wracking attempt to save her from her abusive boyfriend-pimp burns all your peace to the ground?

That’s “Bleeding Heart,” the second film by Los Angeles-based indie director Diane Bell, now premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

Sans makeup, A-list star Jessica Biel plays May, a yoga instructor, moving through this indie like a gazelle in its natural habitat: immensely watchable.

However, it’s Zosia Mamet (pronounced “Zasha”), the ultra-ditzy ensemble member in HBO’s “Girls,” and daughter of renowned American playwright David Mamet, who steals the show as gritty, street-smart, little-sister-prostitute Shiva. Bell says Mamet’s audition tape “blew her away.”

Peace is always possible, but what happens if we’re facing someone who’s really violent?

It’s a small world. Bell is friends with my good friend, indie filmmaker Masha Savitz, who made “Red Reign,” about the Chinese Communist Party’s organ-murdering of Falun Gong meditation practitioners in China. Masha recommends “Bleeding Heart” out of the big selection of Tribeca Film Festival offerings because Bell is “a very special woman.” Say no more.

"Bleeding Heart" director Diane Bell
“Bleeding Heart” director Diane Bell. (Aaron Epstein)

In a phone interview, Bell related that she was raised in Scotland, studied philosophy, and instructed yoga before becoming a filmmaker. She once taught yoga in Edinburgh and Barcelona, in social welfare centers for street prostitutes.

“I was shocked by the level of violence these girls live with; I’d go to the center and there would be papers posted about clients who’d been violent. I thought, this is happening in my city and no one seems to care! It’s an epidemic!”

One of her main concerns as a yoga teacher was the idea that peace is always possible, but what happens if we’re facing someone who’s really violent? What do we do?

The violent epicenter of “Bleeding Heart” is pimp-boyfriend Cody, played by Joe Anderson, recently seen (also mean and gun-toting) in “Supremacy.” The other, nonviolent (but no less irritating) male contribution is May’s yoga-boyfriend Dex (Edi Gathegi), a study in holier-than-thou, hyper-controlling, passive-aggressiveness. 

Regardless of the heavy subject matter, Bell wanted the atmosphere to contain strains of a caper movie between the two female leads—a certain sense of excitement within the danger. And so there are shades of “Thelma & Louise,” but ultimately the resolution is unusual to this kind of narrative. To reveal more would land us in spoiler territory.

I’d noticed the film originally had the working title of “Shiva and May” (Biel’s and Mamet’s characters’ names), and asked what had prompted the current title, “Bleeding Heart.”

“Both characters’ hearts bleed in different ways,” Bell explained.

Shiva’s bleeding heart is a cry for help, and May’s is that of a classic bleeding-heart liberal, but the final title had more to do with the fact that production companies now strongly suggest (this was news to me) that movie titles begin with the letters “A,” “B,” or “C.” Bell’s director friend recently made a film titled “The Wilderness of James,” which producers then changed to “All the Wilderness.” Hence, “Bleeding Heart.”

When asked how she became interested in filmmaking, Bell said she has always been a writer; it was her way of dealing with life. She wrote her first screenplay 10 years ago.

I write about things that trouble me.
— Director Diane Bell

Bell has a classic filmmaker personality: incredibly vibrant, talking at twice the speed of most normal humans, with a sharp, inquisitive mind.

She discovered she loved the collaboration of the filmmaking process: “That’s just the greatest thing on earth. I love all of it. I love the process; I don’t necessarily love the end result. I’m already looking forward to getting on to my next film.”

Looking back, however, she considers herself supremely lucky because of the natural chemistry of this cast: “Joe Anderson brings so much energy, passion, and commitment, and always wanted to go as far as he could. They’re all brave enough to be open and vulnerable; they all went on that journey,” she said.

As for the chemistry between long-lost (actually never-met) sisters Shiva and May, Zosia Mamet and Jessica Biel: “They were cool together, a lot of their dialogue and banter is them just ad-libbing. A lot of that stayed in the film.”

L-r, Zosia Mamet and Jessica Biel as Shiva and May in "Bleeding Heart" (Aaron Epstein)
Zosia Mamet (L) and Jessica Biel as Shiva and May in “Bleeding Heart.” (Aaron Epstein)

Asked whether she has an overall vision that informs all her work, Diane replied that one can’t really control what one writes. “I write about things that trouble me. It’s my way to try and find solutions, and try to heal through art in ways you can’t heal or solve, in the real world. This is my common denominator. Stuff I was worried about.”

Her next project will be about a woman grown disillusioned with society who lives out in the desert. Her dead husband’s best friend comes seeking, but with an agenda. There are ghosts out in the desert; it’s a strange, haunted film, with minimal dialogue. Can one just check out of life, and what are the consequences? Bell’s excitement to start the story-telling is palpable.

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch