Dir: Solveig Anspach. France-Iceland-Belgium. 2003. 90mins
A compact little film destined to do well on TV screens, and with careful handling on the arthouse circuit as well, Solveig Anspach's third feature goes back to medical matters, but is quite different from those she explored in her Haut Les Coeurs' debut. This time, she deals with the relations between a French psychiatrist and her mysterious patient, but to her credit, and unlike the dictates of the genre, she does not provide any miraculous solutions at the end, nor does she resolve all the problems of her protagonists. The first part of the picture is shot in continental Europe, the second part in Iceland, but with the camera yielding very little space to the characters, locations are kept to the essential minimum and it is the differences in human temperament which are very much in evidence here. The film screened in Un Certain Regard at Cannes.
Cora Levine (Bouchez), works as a therapist in a Parisian clinic and becomes fascinated by the silent figure of a woman, who refuses to talk, throws sudden, apparently unmotivated but violent tantrums and keeps entirely to herself. Dedicated as she is to her work, Cora believes she may be breaking through the woman's resistance, when the patient is suddenly removed from the clinic, after being identified as an Icelandic and returned home by her embassy.
Worried about her fate, Cora follows her patient to a little volcanic island called Vestuannaeyjar (which happens to be Anspach's place of birth), discovers the woman's name is Loa, that she is married, has a child and has run away from home several times before. Her behaviour has always been erratic, to say the least, but since there is no psychiatric hospital on the island, she has always been released into the care of her family, who will not hear about her being put into an appropriate facility for further treatment.
Bizarre she may be, but that does not mean she cannot function, even working in the local fishery, with all the rest of the local women. Stranded on the island and almost frozen to death when she finds no accommodation for the night, Cora is forced to stay in the house of the local GP for a few more days, until she recuperates. During this time, Loa has another nervous breakdown, which only re-emphasises the urgency of her case.
Despite a number of inconsistencies in the script and some gaps in the narrative, Anspach manages to put across a story that goes beyond the classic relations between disturbed patients and the brilliance of their doctors. On the contrary, she suggests there is a kind of interdependence between doctor and patient and at the same time indicates that science should recognise its limitations, dwarfed as it is by the immensity of nature.
Using tight angles that keep the characters constantly at close range, Anspach manages to get intense performances from her cast, most particularly Didda Jonsdottir, a successful writer who has never been on the screen before. Her silent, introverted minimal interpretation of Loa is interspersed with sudden outbursts of furious rage, which are represented as a kind of natural unexplained calamity. Elodie Bouchez seems a bit young but is totally dedicated as the devoted psychiatrist, while followers of Icelandic cinema will not fail to identify upcoming actor/film-maker Baltasar Kormakur, who is also a co-producer, and Ingvar Sigurdsson, in two of the supporting parts.
Prod co: Ex Nihilo, Les Films Du Fleuve, Blueeyes Productions
Co-prods: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Baltasar Kormakur
Fr dist: Diaphana Distribution
Int'l sales: Mercure International
Prod: Patrick Sobelman
Scr: Anspach, Cecile Vargaftig, Pierre Erwan Guillaume, Roger Bohbot
Cinematography: Benoit Dervaux
Ed: Anne Riegel
Prod des: Marie Le Garrec
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Main cast: Elodie Bouchez, Didda Jonsdottir, Baltasar Kormakur, Ingvar Sigurdsson, Nathan Cogan, Tinna Gudmundsdottir