Without the crutch of voiceover narration, directly conveying mental behaviors and particularly pathologies through cinema is a formidable endeavor, one often better left to the printed word.
Respectably, French auteur Arnaud Desplechin (A Christmas Tale) introduces Freud to Sisyphus with this bone-dry yet oddly absorbing procedural, a cathartic, talky two-hander between “soul-sick” Native American Blackfoot James Picard (Benicio Del Toro as an alcoholic, shell-shocked WWII veteran prone to debilitating headaches and sight loss) and French-American ethnologist and analyst Georges Devereux (Mathieu Amalric) in a 1948 Topeka, Kansas, clinic.
Loosely structured like a two-hour abridgement of what the real-life Devereux chronicled in his book-length case study Reality and Dream, the film gently pushes viewers through the duo’s therapy process like a highbrow The King’s Speech.
Devereux launches personal and anthropologically specific probes of childhood, romantic, and wartime perceptions, unlocking puzzles of trauma and transference and making observational digressions to interpret finger paintings and dreams, which are filmed in a straightforward fashion that flattens their abstract qualities to appear more like “reality.”
Amalric’s impish dexterity and Del Toro’s mild catatonia make for a memorable mismatch, but Jimmy P.‘s profound slow burn might be too clinical for some to consider dramatic.