On the second evening of the Au Contraire Film Festival, which features films dealing with mental illness but in a way that is realistic and breaking down the usual stereotypes, those in attendance were treated to another soirée of thought provoking and high quality films. This evening was called Therapy Night and was comprised of short films. Seven shorts to be exact of lengths varying from 4 to 22 minutes. There was plenty of variety, subjects and viewpoints. All that I saw fed my mind and soul. It was one of those magical nights in front of a big screen that reinvigorated you in regards to the 7th artistic medium – film.
Starting off with a British short called Patients by Alex Widdowson we began on a really stark and dark foot. The 4 minute short film, which was shown as a Canadian premiere and the first time it was screened anywhere in the world with French subtitles, was an animated one that was very personal. Semi-autobiographical (that took my breath away thinking that Widdowson had gone through some of this himself) and based on the life experiences of Alex Widdowson, the film does not pull any punches in its short time. In a head on way it deals with the stigmas that someone suffering from a mental illness has to deal with within the health system. Does not come off as a system that is helpful or healing. You see in a very graphic way the insult, injury, mistreatment, and difficulties a person with a mental illness has to endure. And that is on top of their illness.
Next up was an 8 minute short from Italy called Bellissima by Alessandro Capitani. It was quite a change from the previous one. Not only because it was live action rather than animated, but because the tone was much lighter. Right off the word bellissima means beautiful in English, so you know you are getting something uplifting. Veronica is a 20-year-old who feels trapped in an overweight body. While at a party she is teased by a boy because of her size. She goes into the bathroom and seeks protection in a stall where she feels that no one can see or judge her. Suddenly the bathroom becomes a place where she is connecting with another human being and relating to them on a level of intellect and personality rather than the way she looks. Sweet and touching. Once you see it you can understand why this film, which has made the rounds in different film festivals around the world, has won several prizes.
Another Italian film followed, Millelire by Vito Cea. As subject the 19 minute long film deals with a male paranoid schizophrenic and his contentious relationship with his family. Despite the fact that he cannot seem to connect with his own flesh and blood he is able to form relationships with the people (strangers) living in his neighbourhood.
American Katie Francis Orr’s film Coward shows that this lady can do everything. She wrote, directed, did the set design, choreographed, and stars in the 6 minute short film. The film is about Frankee and happiness. Is it a choice for her? We follow Frankee around for a day as she tries to find her purpose in the life. She feels unable to contribute and unable to die. Because she cannot do either she feels like a coward. Hasn’t earned the right to do anything. We are inside her head and hear all her thoughts. It is a busy and cluttered place.
We stay in America for Folie à Deux by Ernie Mosteller. Literally translated the title means Madness for Two in English. The premise is that awkward silence leads to awkward thoughts. Those involved in this begin to wonder if they are the crazy ones. A patient at a psychiatrist/psychologist/therapist’s office. The silence. Time just keeps ticking on the clock on the mantel. She just keeps scribbling something on her pad. The patient’s mind wanders and his imagination takes over. It is overwhelming. What will be the outcome?
Another film that has been screened at many film festivals around the world was Brit director Rupert Cresswell’s Charlie Cloudhead. It follows a man (Paul Higgins) who literally has a cloud over his head. No matter what he is doing – at work, at the gym, sitting on a bench or while eating at a restaurant. The cloud is there as a representation of his problems, which he keeps bottled up. Things finally come to a head at a birthday dinner with his wife. He now can no longer keep things inside him. Men have a problem talking about their emotions and tend to repress them. That leads to plenty of emotional and mental problems. The main question asked here is whether you are willing to take a big risk to find happiness. A film loaded with universal themes and is easy to relate to.
The night ended with a Germany/Austria/U.S. combo effort called Pitter Patter Goes My Heart by Christoph Rainer. Lisa (Vicky Krieps) is a hopeless romantic who has broken up with the man (Michael Maertens) she sees as the love of her life. This is made even more painful for her by the fact that her ex already has a new girlfriend. Lisa is willing to do anything, no matter how crazy or desperate, to try and get him back. A spoke is put into her romantic wheel when she has to take her father (Max Reimann), who is an alcoholic, to a photo shoot concerning varicose veins. The sometimes overwhelming nature of love is examined. Some will go to any length to get it and hold on to it. Obsession can lead to a mental disorder if it goes far enough. You are unreasonable and manic. The over-the-top acting in the short film really drives this home.