Bad Girls We Love: Mona Demarkov from Romeo is Bleeding

Some cinematic performances are so highly charged, so astonishingly assured, that we can still feel the reverberations years, even decades later. Lena Olin scorching the earth as Mona Demarkov in the excellent neo-noir classic Romeo is Bleeding (1993) is one such performance. Is Mona the most sexually uninhibited and ruthless femme fatale in movie history? I certainly think a case can be made in her favor.

Romeo is Bleeding tells the story of corrupt NYPD detective Jack Grimaldi, played in an electrifying performance by the great Gary Oldman. Jack is husband to a wife who deserves better (Annabella Sciorra in a devastating performance). He’s sleeping with a young and naive woman (Juliette Lewis) on the side, while bankrolling his double life doing favors for a powerful monster named Falcone (Roy Scheider), in exchange for cash bribes. Jack’s precarious existence begins to unravel fast when Russian-born assassin Mona saunters into the picture.

Jack is in deep immediately, thanks to Mona’s powers of seduction. Not only is she a living lethal weapon, but she’s also the most outrageously sexy woman that Jack—or anyone—has ever encountered. With long, cascading auburn hair, piercing chocolate-brown eyes, and always dressed to the hilt in skirts that intentionally reveal plenty of her stocking tops and garter belts, Mona is an incredibly sensual being. Sex is another power move in her arsenal, which she uses to manipulate Jack at every turn. Mona has Jack wrapped around her sexy little trigger finger.

Lena Olin gives a startling performance. It’s truly one for the ages. Mona is stone-coldblooded, yet Olin makes it clear through her sexed-up Cheshire cat grin that she’s having a tremendously good time being so very bad. Olin’s physicality in the role is astonishing, whether in scenes of sexual seduction like when she straddles Oldman and rips of her jacket, or during action set pieces like the movie’s most famous scene. Handcuffed in the backseat of Jack’s car after having been shot in the arm, Mona thrusts her powerful legs around Jack’s neck, scissor-choking him into crashing. She then kicks out the windshield, slithers out onto the smoking car’s hood, and escapes—all while handcuffed. It’s hard to imagine anyone else pulling this scene off with the same level of cool that Olin brings to the role.

As noir femme fatales go, I dare say only Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction offers as potent a combination of sex and danger as Lena Olin in Romeo is Bleeding. Mona, as written, is a comic book style super-assassin, capable of extraordinary feats, but it’s Lena Olin who makes us believe an actual woman can do the jaw-dropping things that Mona does.

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