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EMAV Film Review: 'Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets' captures the feeling of dive bar life

If you go into “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” without any background knowledge, as many viewers did when the movie from filmmaking brothers Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross played at a number of prominent film festivals (including Sundance, Berlin and True/False) earlier this year, you’d probably assume that it’s a documentary about the last day of a Las Vegas dive bar called The Roaring 20s. The Rosses are known for their artistically constructed documentaries, including “Tchoupitoulas” and “Western,” which have been festival and critical favorites. At first glance, “Bloody Nose” seems like another slice-of-life documentary, capturing real interactions in the moment, without any reflective interviews or contextual explanations.

Except it’s not. The Roaring 20s is not a real Las Vegas bar, the patrons that inhabit it were all recruited via casting sessions and given narrative arcs to follow, and aside from a handful of brief exterior scenes, the entire movie was shot in New Orleans. The Rosses aim to capture a feeling more than an actual place, and “Bloody Nose” is more about dive bar culture than it is about Las Vegas. Early on, genial bartender Marc (Marc Paradis) groans at a news story about Vegas institution Bonanza Gifts being sold to a new owner, complaining that the town has changed and Celine Dion might as well just take it over. But aside from that clichéd lamentation about Vegas being better in the old days, the movie doesn’t have anything to say about the town itself. The working-class bar patrons never mention casino or service industry jobs, and while the Rosses provide some haunting portrayals of functional alcoholism, nobody in the bar seems to have a gambling habit.

Sure, the bar TVs show news broadcasts from local Vegas station KTNV, but aside from the Bonanza Gifts story, the clips just feature traffic reports or promotional segments about cruise lines. The Roaring 20s could be in Vegas, or it could be in New Orleans, or it could be in a forgotten corner of any city, and that’s really the point of the movie. Whatever they do when they’re not at the bar, the people here form connections with each othe