JIMMY P., PSYCHOTHÉRAPIE D'UN INDIEN DES PLAINES (Jimmy P., Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian)

I will admit to having a few issues with French director Arnaud Desplechin, a critics' darling whose work has always struck me as overly cerebral and very un-spontaneous, something quite astounding for a director with such a knack for actors; his works are typical of a certain style of thoughtful French "dinner mint" movies more enjoyable to think about afterwards than while they're actually on. I'd begun warming up to Mr. Desplechin with his wonderful all-star family tale Un Conte de Noël (A Christmas Tale), but after five years away, Jimmy P. seems to bring back with a vengeance everything that struck me as too conceptual and symbolic in works like Rois et reine (Kings and Queen) or Esther Kahn.

     Taking his cue from Romanian-born French "psycho-anthropologist" Georges Devereux's memoir of treating Native American Jimmy Picard in the late 1940s, the director seems here to be exploring a highly idealised concept of the connection between outsiders. Picard, a WWII veteran suffering from psychic troubles that we'd later call post-traumatic stress disease, is part of an ethnic minority still treated as second-class citizens, even though his care at the Nebraska hospital Devereux is treating him in is stellar. Devereux is a published but misunderstood scholar seeking to be taken seriously and aiming at tenure. Yet, despite the best efforts of such wonderful actors as Benicio del Toro (playing Picard as a hurting, bewildered man who has no idea what's going on in his head) and Desplechin regular Mathieu Amalric (playing Devereux as a wide-eyed bon vivant who believes in himself when no one else does), it's clear Mr. Desplechin lost his way.

     In attempting to display his own love for and homage to American post-war cinema, rendering the social and personal undercurrents that fed so much of the great films of the 1950s, the director merely stumbles head-on on a series of earnest but overdone clichés and creates a bewilderingly pointless case history doubling up as a sort of précis of psychotherapy under another name. It's also clear that he was aiming at using psychotherapy as a window into this new post-war world, a door opening into a possible understanding of the new demands being made on returning veterans by a shifting society. That he fails so staggeringly to do anything other than a fervent cheerleader for the greatness of therapy may be attributed to his fondness for theories above practice, for ideas above people; we leave the screening without being any closer to its characters than we were when we went in. Despite solid technical work all around and the excellence of the two leading men, this is simply a big miss.

Cast: Benicio del Toro, Mathieu Amalric, Gina McKee, Larry Pine, Joseph Cross, Elya Baskin, Gary Former, Michelle Thrush, Misty Upham, Jennifer Podemski, Michael Greyeyes, A. Martinez
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Screenwriters: Mr. Desplechin, Julie Peyr, Kent Jones, from the book by Georges Devereux, Psychothérapie d'un indien des plaines: réalité et rêve
Cinematography: Stéphane Fontaine  (colour, widescreen)
Music: Howard Shore
Designer: Dina Goldman
Costumes: David Robinson
Editor: Laurence Briaud
Producers: Jennifer Roth, Pascal Caucheteux, Grégoire Sorlat  (Why Not Productions in co-production with Wild Bunch, Orange Studio, France 2 Cinéma, Hérodiade Films and Le Pacte, in association with Canal Plus, Ciné Plus, France Télévisions and Smuggler Films)
France/USA, 2013, 117 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Medeia Monumental 1, November 25th 2013


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