Film Review: ‘Bloodroot’

An affectionate portrait of both a long-running feminist restaurant and bookstore and its two still-active founders.

Douglas Tirola
Selma Miriam, Noel Furie.

1 hour 36 minutes

The last 70 years or so of feminist theory and activism are definitely on the menu in “Bloodroot.” Douglas Tirola’s documentary pays fond tribute to the two women who’ve stayed the course throughout the nearly half-century history of the titular collectively owned vegetarian restaurant in Bridgeport, Conn. Their individual stories provide archetypal illustrations of how the women’s liberation movement impacted many in the 1970s, amid an ingratiating mix of cultural flashback, personality profile and armchair foodie travel. This should be a particularly popular item on the LGBT festival circuit.

Raised in a time and milieu where “If you weren’t marriageable by the time you got out of college, you might as well commit suicide,” Selma Miriam and Noel Furie dutifully followed separate paths to suburban wedlock and child-rearing without quite realizing what they were missing. Still, they knew it was something. Miriam studied premed at Tufts until maternity intervened when she was fitted with a wrong-sized diaphragm. Furie bent to her frustrated-actress mother’s dreams in becoming a teenage model, apparently a rather hellish experience in the mid-’60s. She then worked at the Playboy Club, where she met her husband.

Both their marriages were on the rocks by 1972, when they met at a local National Organization for Women gathering. Mutual consciousness-raising turned (albeit briefly) to romance. Then mutual respect survived a breakup to preserve their shared involvement in Bloodroot, a Feminist Restaurant-Bookstore located on the water and well off the beaten track.

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The women-owned-and-run eatery, which serves seasonal veggie dishes from around the globe, has had its ups and downs in popularity — buoyed every few years by some fresh flattering coverage in The New York Times. Furie and Miriam are apparently the last holdouts from the original crew. But Bloodroot is as much a community-building mission as a commercial venture, and neither of them would dream of giving it up. While the bookstore aspect may be more a matter of principle than profit these days, a host of leading feminist writers and thinkers (many glimpsed in archival footage) have stopped by over the decades, to dine and/or speak.

The restaurant (whose building resembles a boathouse) has a charmingly antique-filled look that’s barely changed with the passing of time. There’s a similar appeal to the two proprietor’s invitingly cluttered houses, in which every useful or decorative object seems to have some anecdote of personal importance or international affiliation.

Like the fare they sell — Bloodroot is serious about organic local produce and “leaving a small footprint — our protagonists make walking the talk seem not a matter of political posturing but rather a fulfilling and logical choice. Their personalities are quite different, yet equally likable, and it’s easy to see why they’ve gotten along so well for so long.

Adapting his style to their sensibility (one drastically different from such prior works as “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon” or “All In: The Poker Movie”), Tirola has made an aptly hand-crafted, leisurely film, one in which DP’s Jarred Alterman and Olivia Zimmerman render a vegetable garden as appetizing as a dessert tray. There’s humorous use of archival advertisements and other material to illustrate the traditional domesticity our heroines are glad to have escaped.

The film does bog down a bit in its final third, because the major conflicts in the protagonists’ lives seem to have passed by the time Bloodroot was established. The two women appear uninterested in discussing their private lives after that point, and the lack of other interviewees, even if it does lend this documentary a nice air of entwined dual-autobiographical storytelling, mean no gaps get filled in.

Yet if initial delight eventually fades to mere pleasantness, “Bloodroot” is always engaging — and sure to put the restaurant on the bucket list of those not constrained by carnivorism. The attractive assembly extends to a soundtrack of female-driven rock cuts from Dusty Springfield to Tracy Chapman.

Film Review: 'Bloodroot'

Reviewed at SFFilm, April 11, 2019. Running time: 96 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A 4th Row Films production in association with Archer Gray and Fork Films. (International sales: Cinetic, Los Angeles.) Producer: Susan Bedusa. Executive producers: Abigail E. Disney, Amy Nauiokas, Vinay Singh, James Connolly. Co-producer: Jess Kwan.

Crew: Director: Douglas Tirola. Camera (color, HD): Jarred Alterman, Olivia Zimmerman. Editor: Kellan Hayley Marvin. Music: Katy Jarzebowski.

With: Selma Miriam, Noel Furie.

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