3 October 2013 | sfviewer123
Well-intentioned which touches out on powerful themes, somewhat drawn-out
An intellectual labor of love in which the director tries to recreate the psychotherapeutic relationship between a French psychoanalyst (in reality a Hungarian-German Jew who converted to Christianity) and a Blackfoot Indian vet suffering from inexplicable symptoms in the late 1940s in a VA hospital in Topeka, Kansas.
Played by Benicio del Toro (who is Puerto Rican) and Mathieu Almaric (who is half-French half-Polish Jewish), the film drags at times but does delve into some interesting psychological (although of course it goes *much* more seamlessly/painlessly than most analyses in reality).
Almaric's character wins over Del Toro's with his initial knowledge of Native American cultures (actually Mojave but there are parallels to the Blackfoot). From there he tries to synthesize his anthropological knowledge with what seem to be a pretty standard fare of sexualized Freudian clichés (witnessing the primal scene, explicit discussions of vaginas (which I thought Del Toro's character spoke about far too easily for the mores of that day and age)).
The relationship between the two men are supposed to be a life-changing event but I felt the film fell a little short in depicting that reality (also a film review (for which I know the director is not responsible) described their friendship as resulting from their both being outsiders, but Almaric's character never reveals his true background (his lover mentions at one point the fact that he changed his name but that is it, perhaps there were other scenes that didn't make it past the editor (I went to the premiere in NYC with the director and main actors and they said there are a lot of scenes that got cut)).
In the latter part of the movie there are strong hints that Jimmy's (Del Toro's character) headaches, fits of rage and alcoholic binges are the result of systematic sociopolitical mistreatment of native Americans but the subject is only strongly hinted at, not really discussed explicitly by Jimmy in any deep or meaningful way. This was to me perhaps more interesting than the anthropological Freudianism of the first 90 minutes of the film, but the director was trying to adhere to a book on the subject and real-life events (psychology back then was even more grossly unaware of psychopolitical factors compared to now).
Perhaps subtly discourages the notion that Jimmy is suffering from PTSD (a diagnosis which did not exist at the time, but the phrase "shell shock" is not used either) because he never saw combat or killed anyone (he was involved in mine-clearing operations after the German retreat). Also interesting insofar as his injury was to his head, thus perhaps implicitly challenging the often presumed relationship nowadays in vets between TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD? (Then again the director was following real-life events so I don't know his intentionality.)
A worthwhile film but a little odd insofar as it (to me) underemphasizes the ethnocultural forces in the characters in favor of a "special friendship" (in a universalized way) despite the fact that it is the decultured nature of American psychiatry which was at the root of doctors' inability to help Jimmy in the first place. Also couldn't stand the way a couple of actors (thinking of Almaric and Joseph Cross specifically) who think that acting means being as anxious and/or intense as possible in every scene.
P.S. The film does drag a bit (114 minutes) (I'm not someone who normally complains about "art-house" films with slower (French) pacing either.)