Written and directed by François Kohler
February 15 through 28, Film Forum
Desperate to finally feel something, Fight Club's insomniac hero begins semi-randomly attending support groups in search of vicarious emotional kicks. He would've loved Desert Wind. François Kohler's documentary follows 13 "regular guys" of various ages, nationalities, and backgrounds (although all are evidently straight) plus their "facilitator," Swiss psychotherapist Alexis Burger, through a 12-day retreat in the Tunisian desert. Nicely rendered moments of casual intimacy between the men (we see one rinsing shampoo from another's scalp) attest to the trip's therapeutic value, but very little of it transfers to the audience. The dull large-group scenes consist mostly of old standbys like writing problems on slips of paper and burning them (followed here by Burger's dubious exhortation to "thank the fire"). The major exception arrives near the end, when the men take turns standing nude in front of the group and talking frankly about their bodies. Unfortunately, this audience-implicating physicality is sorely missing from the rest of Desert Wind. It's tough to connect with the almost context-free displays of emotion, and a century into the era of psychoanalysis, there's little about the men's assorted troubles with mothers and fathers, wives and girlfriends, that comes as a revelation. Indeed, it's precisely the ordinariness of the men and their issues that all but guarantees Desert Wind's ultimate banality.