Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky died at the age of 69, shortly before the film industry took off. The Bracelet of Bordeaux is an example of where the industry might have headed, had he lived a few decades longer, and been able to contribute his genius to the art directly.
Filmed in 2006 and released on DVD in 2009, "Bracelet" examines the human experience and the psychology of heroism, and villainy.
We start in 1945, with a woman (played by Jennifer White) in France. We briefly see her with a bracelet of unexplained power, hiding from the Nazis. We don't know it yet, but this woman is a member of the French Resistance, and will one day be an indomitable "Grandmere" living in Texas.
Onward Ever, Backward Never
Flash forward to the present--"present" being 1996. Helen Hixon (played by the amazing Aly Clare Carson) is eleven years old and moving to Chem City, Texas. She is not a fan of Texas--it's too hot, and full of mosquitos (facts to which I can attest). Though her world has been left behind with the move, she holds on to her identity as a Wood Sprouts Troop, and wears her uniform constantly, much to her fashion- and status-focused mother's chagrin.
Immediately upon their arrival in their new home, the Hixon family finds a young French girl tied up, her dog stolen1. The only clue is that the girl, Marie (played by Kelsey Edwards of
France San Antonio), had managed to grab a punk-style spiked wristband off the thief. Naturally, the police are of little assistance, but Helen intends to solve the mystery herself.
Our protagonist, Helen, is determined and pragmatic in the pursuit of her goals. As is the wont of heroic kids on a mission, especially those surrounded by clueless or negligent adults, deference to the rules is not her modus operandi. I would argue that this is not due to a lack of scruples on her part, but an overabundance of moxie.
Harkening back to the opening scene, one might wonder whether we're actually watching a story of the French Resistance, only with the political connotations stripped away, allowing us to more openly consider the conflict between following the rules and doing what needs to be done.
In pursuit of the truth, the two girls find themselves confronting an irritating costume shop clerk, a teenaged ice cream vendor (who is unbeknownst to them a member of the dog stealing "punkoid" gang), and an annoying old woman with whom they trade words. We also meet Marie's grandmere--played by the unsurpassable Lucy Gabbard--who is an indomitable, doddering old woman, and claims to have fought in the French Resistance. In the attic of Marie and Grandmere's home, the girls find an old chest with a heavy padlock, which Helen deftly unscrambles and opens. They find a secret compartment containing a Nazi uniform and a mysterious bracelet hidden in the pages of a book. Helen dons the bracelet and discovers it has endowed her with mysterious powers. At astounding speed, she pedals through the town, robbing the costume shop of a Wood Sprout costume for Marie as well as disguise or two, beating up the ice cream vendor with ice cream projectiles, and mowing over the old woman's flowers.
The message is clear: power corrupts. Luckily, power does not corrupt inexorably. The girls opt to return the bracelet to the attic.
There's a scene following this with Marie alone in the attic, where she sees a photo in the chest. It's a man giving the Nazi salute. Unsure what that is, she too does the salute in the mirror, only to be caught by Grandmere, who explains to her what the salute is, and blames the Nazi movement on the leader--people followed him on the promise of power. They did terrible things for power.
It's worth looking again, now, at these punkoids who are stealing dogs. The leader, Dirk, is doing this as a side hustle while working for his dog-stealing uncle in The Mafia. Only his uncle finds out and is furious. He gives Dirk 48 hours to pay him $10 000 to make it up to him. Consequently, Dirk is demanding $10k in ransom from Grandmere for Marie's dog.
By no means is Dirk is a paragon of virtue, but we see that he's not engaging in his villainy entirely uncoerced and purely out of malice. The leadership of his uncle is a factor. Additionally, one of the punkoid flunkies, Pinko, seems to be fully redeemable, and we see flashes of compassion for the victims from her. But follow the leader is central to human psychology. Followers are not blameless, but they are not one-dimensional, reprehensible agents of evil. Usually we're shown this purely through a redemption arc or seeing a softer side of them when interacting with friends or a pet, but the truest way of humanizing the villain is not to see them being kind, to recognize the psychology of their cruelty, and to understand that those same forces are in play in all of us. None one of us acts beyond reproach when put in the wrong situation. Though what "the wrong situation" is will vary from person to person, there are such situations for all of us. Crime is not actually caused by evil.
Dirk has a 48-hour deadline to come up with ten grand, so Helen and Marie are in short order faced with this same ultimatum. To achieve this, they turn to the local Wood Sprouts group, and request assistance in procuring the funds. The Wood Sprouts come through with some funds, but not--it seems--the full 10k. Marie's dog is offed, but Helen's own dog is stolen and the 10k is now needed for that ransom. Helen, over Marie's objection, goes to meet Dirk at the alligator-infested pond to trade the less-than-ten-grand for her dog.
Upon her arrival, alone, Dirk shoves Helen out onto the lake in a sinking boat, alligators watching and waiting. Just in the nick of time, Marie rushes in with the bracelet. She has difficulties getting it to work for her, and tosses it to Helen, who uses it to turn Dirk into a dancing ballerina. In rush the punkoid gang, but they're followed shortly thereafter by a large troop of Wood Sprouts, who defeat the punkoids.
When all is said and done, at the end of the film, Grandmere gives us an unsatisfying explanation of the bracelet. She found it in the Bibliothèque, drawn to it like a magnet, and informs Helen that the bracelet only works for those who "pass the test" and demonstrate that they can be trusted to use it for good. Helen protests that "she could have been better"--a valid claim, at least with Helen's initial actions under the bracelet's influence--but as a viewer, there's a more salient issue: Grandmere had the bracelet, and Helen now has the bracelet. From these two data points, Grandmere knows it has some mystical "only the honorable can use it" morality lock built in. Color me unconvinced. It's a disastrous plothole in an otherwise outstanding story, and it blemished the entire production for me.
There are mixed reviews of this film on Amazon--some say it's a dreadful film, poorly written, poorly acted, and poorly directed. Others say it's a dreadful film, but loads of fun if you're a young child. A small few say it's great fun for kids and adults alike. They may be paid shills, or--like me, good friends with someone involved in the filming and thus horribly biased and not to be relied upon. Regardless of its entertainment value, if you're looking for a film that investigates the human psyche, a study of the French Resistance without all the starry-eyed romanticization, and a surreal depiction of World War II through magical realism in suburban Texas...look deep and it's there. If you look deeply enough, it's everywhere.
1 It is a valid question what Marie was doing in the Hixon home, but not one that is asked on screen. Whether this merely speaks of a deep backstory and extensive world-building on the part of author Frank Eakin, an analogy to the unanswered questions left by war, or if it is something so mundane as a hook left for future spin-offs and sequels.