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In Arnaud Desplechin’s English-language Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian), Benicio Del Toro—freed at last from the tyranny of playing bit-part heavies in American thrillers and action movies—is James Picard, a Blackfoot Indian who has lost his way in post-World War II America. He’s a veteran, but he’s treated like an outsider in his own country. He suffers devastating headaches and bouts of blindness. And he drinks too much, which doesn’t help anything. Sounds like a job for … French genius pixie Mathieu Amalric, playing Hungarian-born ethnologist and psychoanalyst George Devereux, the man assigned to treat Picard at Topeka’s Menninger Clinic in 1948.
This is a superb, engrossing picture, strange in all the right ways, and I long to see it again. Jimmy P. is based on Devereaux’s book Reality and Dream, and though the picture is very much unlike any movie Desplechin has made before (aside from the fact that it’s the fifth time he and Amalric have worked together), it shows the Desplechin touch—it’s structured in a way that feels slightly meandering, though by the end, the main characters’ inner lives have drifted into clear focus.
As Picard, Del Toro carries so much existential suffering in his eyes that it appears to have sunk deep into the pads of his cheeks. He’s like a prizefighter who stays on his feet long past the point where his mind and heart can take it. And Amalric’s Devereux, by turns mischievous and compassionate, matches him, move for move—this is one of the most unexpected and inspired movie pairings in recent memory. Jimmy P. couldn’t have been made by an American director—or if it had, it would have starred Tom Hanks and been deadly. This story needed Desplechin like our music needed the Beatles and the Stones. Sometimes it takes an outsider to reflect the country we think we know in its truest light.