Dir: Claude Miller. France. 1999. 80 mins
Prod Co: Le Sept ARTE-teleclip/Les Films de la Boissiere. Int'l sales: UGC International, tel: (33) 1 4029 8900. Prods: Annie Miller, Jacques Fansten. Scr: Claude Miller partially based on The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt. DoP: Philippe Weldt. Ed: Veronique Lange. Mus: Hubert Persat. Main cast: Anne Brochet, Mathilde Seigner, Annie Noel, Yves Jacques, Edouard Baer.
A back to basics move by veteran French director Claude Miller, La Chambre Des Magiciennes is part of the Petites Cameras series of television projects allowing filmmakers to embrace the financial advantages and artistic opportunities of storytelling using digital technology.
Detailing a young woman's struggle with a mental and physical decline that may be psychological rather than medical, its depressing subject matter and experimental nature make it unlikely to attract an paying audience. The director's reputation and the cast may just entice a smattering of the curious on its home territory where a theatrical release is planned early next year.
A thirty year-old anthropology student, Claire (Brochet) has been suffering from intense migraines for the past six months. A succession of doctors have been unable to diagnose her condition or alleviate her pain. Eventually, she agrees to be hospitalised, sharing a side ward with an unpredictable old woman experiencing dementia and a young woman who has been unable to walk since she miscarried.
Prolonged exposure to their suffering becomes part of a healing process. Divided into chapter headings and diary entries, the film mostly unfolds as a succession of talking heads in which we learn more about Claire and the relationships with family, friends and lovers that have led to her condition. Sinister fantasy sequences, sweeping, speeded up movements down hospital corridors and television footage break the monotony of a needlessly obscure attempt to dramatise the workings of the human mind and the outside forces that provoke inner turmoil.
Devoid of the sentimentality that Hollywood might have brought to the subject (Girl Interrupted, for instance), it still fails to engage the emotions or break free from the straitjacket of the digital format.