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Tag Archives: Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian)

A Tale of Two Field Trips: Jimmy P. and Body and Soul

A couple of months ago I had the great pleasure of taking two classes from two different schools on field trips to see movies in the theater. My “World of Cinema” class from Harold Washington College, which focused primarily on westerns and films noir, went to see a screening of Arnaud Desplechin’s 2013 film Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) at Facets Multimedia. A week later my “Intro to Film” class from Oakton Community College went to a 35mm revival of Robert Rossen’s boxing drama Body and Soul (1947) at Northwestern University’s Block Cinema — a screening that was introduced by the esteemed critic and author J. Hoberman. Both titles ended up fitting perfectly into my curricula even though I had never seen either of them before. These experiences reminded me again of why teaching is the best job in the world: it gives one the opportunity to learn along with one’s students.

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Writing about Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) was the midterm assignment for my “World of Cinema” class. Because the students had at that point spent most of the semester studying the western, I told them I wanted them to write essays illustrating how the movie, although not technically a western, still might be seen as engaging the core concerns of the genre. I knew before going in that Jimmy P. was a drama about a Native American undergoing psychoanalysis in the late 1940s and that Desplechin had said he thought about John Ford every day while making the film, but this still turned out to be a more profitable exercise for them than I could have imagined. While the western has long been predicated on depicting culture clashes that result in physical violence, Jimmy P. depicts a similar culture clash but one that results in psychological violence: it tells the story of James Picard (Benicio Del Toro in his finest performance to date), a Blackfoot Indian and World War II veteran who, much like Robert Taylor’s Shoshone character in Anthony Mann’s Devil’s Doorway, has trouble readjusting to civilian life upon being discharged from military service.

At the film’s beginning, Picard is suffering from headaches and bouts of blindness that cause him to seek help at a Topeka military hospital. The doctors there can find nothing physically wrong with him and recruit Georges Devereux (Mathieu Amalric at his most exuberant), a Hungarian-Jewish psychotherapist/anthropologist who has spent time with Native Americans, for assistance. What follows is a series of extended rap sessions between the two men that shows the process of psychoanalysis in great detail. It soon becomes apparent that Picard is suffering from trauma stemming from events in his early childhood combined with a lifetime of facing casual racism. Picard, whose Blackfoot name means “Everybody Talks About Him,” also faces an identity crisis: he’s a practicing Catholic with his feet planted in two separate worlds, both of which he feels alienated from. Desplechin’s formidable achievement here is to not only realistically show how one can be healed through the process of psychotherapy but also to depict a beautiful and unlikely friendship between two very different men (though one gets the impression that Devereux was well-equipped to treat Picard precisely because he was as much of an “outsider” to mainstream American society as his patient). Jimmy P. is a genuinely optimistic movie that never resorts to sentimentality — and that’s a rare thing indeed.

Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) rating: 8.6

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The screening of Body and Soul at Block Cinema, about which my “Intro to Film” students had to write a brief screening report, marked the final episode in an intriguingly programmed series entitled “Red Hollywood.” According to J. Hoberman’s lecture, this blue-collar epic was the most explicitly leftist of a crop of post-World War II era Hollywood movies that would soon draw the ire of Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee (director Robert Rossen, screenwriter Abraham Polonsky and lead actor John Garfield were all eventually blacklisted or graylisted). Body and Soul centers on Charley Davis (Garfield), a tough street kid who is taken under the wing of an unscrupulous promoter (Lloyd Goff) after winning an amateur boxing match. He eventually becomes a champion fighter but loses his soul in the process. While Rossen is not generally regarded as an auteur (there’s a reason why I had never seen this before), he and legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe undeniably worked cinematic magic in the boxing sequences — the final of which saw Howe using a handheld camera while being pushed around the ring on rollerskates. (Body and Soul‘s influence, aesthetically and narratively, on both Rocky and Raging Bull is plain to see.)

J. Hoberman’s pre and post-screening remarks focused heavily on one shot, containing just 20 words of dialogue, that was cut from some release prints (and even, probably by accident, the film’s first DVD release) — a Jewish grocer making a delivery to Charley’s mother says: “Over in Europe the Nazis are killing people like us just because of their religion. But here Charley Davis is champion.” Arguably more interesting, however, is the overall contempt the film expresses for money and its corrupting power. This is perhaps best exemplified by an emotionally charged scene where the villainous promoter drops money on the floor in front of a brain-damaged African-American boxer (Canada Lee) who subsequently refuses to pick it up. Body and Soul‘s message about the importance of integrity and not selling out (in a neat twist, Davis knowingly loses a huge sum of money by winning his final fight) is arguably more vital and poignant today, in an era when most contemporary Hollywood movies — with the notable and ironic exception of The Wolf of Wall Street — seem to do nothing but worship the acquisition of wealth and fame.

You can check out the trailer for Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) via YouTube below:

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CIFF ’13: 13 Most Wanted

Here are a baker’s dozen of the titles I’d most like to see turn up at the Chicago International Film Festival in October. I actually compiled this list before the release a couple weeks ago of CIFF’s “Sneak Preview” confirming that Blue is the Warmest Color will indeed receive its Chicago premiere at the Fest. I also forgot that the Jarmusch movie has no chance in hell of making the cut because it’s being released by Sony Pictures Classics, a distributor with a long track record of pointedly not submitting their films to CIFF. But whatever. Even if you don’t know or care anything about the Chicago International Film Festival, consider this a handy guide to a bunch of exciting-looking movies that should hopefully be turning up soon at a theater near you. I’m including links to trailers or clips wherever possible.

Bastards (Denis)

Early reaction to Claire Denis’ latest has been typically divisive but fans of the grand dame of French art cinema have reasons to set expectations high: this stars Michel Subor (who also starred in my two favorite Denis films: Beau Travail and The Intruder) as a sleazy businessman who somehow brings a middle-class family to ruin. More importantly, it has been described as Denis at her grimmest — as well as her most puzzle-like and elliptical. As someone who thinks Denis’ greatest strengths arise from the abstract alchemy she works in collaboration with cinematographer Agnes Godard and composer Stuart Staples, that is music to my ears.

Blind Detective (To, Hong Kong)

The Cannes premiere of Johnnie To’s latest seemed to provoke predominantly quizzical reactions from critics, many of whom condescendingly assumed that its more delirious elements were specifically designed to go over well with Hong Kong audiences. But for fans (who truly span the globe) of the world’s greatest genre filmmaker, this sounds like Johnnie To heaven: it reunites Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng (who first teamed up in To’s Needing You way back in 2000), the former as the title character who comes out of retirement to help solve a cold case. There’s also supposedly slapstick comedy, grisly murders, mystery, romance, cannibalism and “food porn.” Who wouldn’t want to see this?

Blue is the Warmest Color (Kechiche, France)

I’m still not sure how I feel about Abdellatif Kechiche, the talented Tunisian-born French filmmaker whose latest, a controversial coming-of-age lesbian love story, took Cannes by storm. I like the way he plays with narrative structure: there are scenes in his highly regarded The Secret of the Grain that are “too long” that eventually take on a kind of hypnotic quality (a scene of an extended family eating together, a climactic belly dance) and yet, aesthetically, he also indulges in an overuse of close-ups and a sub-Dardennes style of shaky-cam realism that feels uninspired. If nothing else, Blue is the Warmest Color should be worth seeing for the performances of the lead actresses, who, in an unprecedented move, were asked to share the Palme d’Or with their director by the Steven Spielberg-led Cannes jury.

Closed Curtain (Panahi/Partovi, Iran)

Incredibly, this is Jafar Panahi’s second film to be clandestinely made and smuggled out of Iran since the director was placed under house arrest in 2010 and banned from making films for 20 years. The first, the documentary This Is Not a Film, was shot on a cheap digital camera and an iPhone and dealt explicitly with Panahi’s imprisonment. (It was also one of the best films I saw last year.) This follow-up is a narrative — about a man and his dog on the run from corrupt government officials — in which the fictional story supposedly gives way to something more self-reflexive when Panahi himself appears onscreen. Closed Curtain received raves in Berlin where it won the Best Screenplay prize.

The Immigrant (Gray, USA)

I’m a latecomer in appreciating James Gray, an ambitious writer/director whose mature character-based dramas hark back to the New Hollywood of the 1970s. A year ago I was completely unfamiliar with his formidable body of work but I’ve now seen his first four films and I think each one is better than the last. So I’m especially excited to see The Immigrant, his first period piece, which won raves (but no awards) at Cannes. This deals with a Polish woman (Marion Cotillard) in early 20th-century Manhattan caught between a vicious pimp (Joaquin Phoenix) and a kind-hearted magician (Jeremy Renner).

Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen/Coen, USA)

With the exception of The Big Lebowski, which I think is a masterpiece of modern comedy, I tend to admire the films of the Coen brothers more than I actually like them (and some of their more smart-alecky exercises I actively dislike). I must admit, however, that Inside Llewyn Davis looks exceptionally promising — not because of the predictable raves at Cannes (where they’ve always been feted, and walked off with the Best Director prize even for The Man Who Wasn’t There) — but because of the subject matter: what looks to be an impeccable recreation of the Greenwich Village folk music scene in the early Sixties loosely based on the autobiography of underappreciated singer Dave Van Ronk. This has been described as low-key and unusually heartfelt. Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman and Justin Timberlake star.

Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) (Desplechin, France/USA)

Arnaud Desplechin (Kings and Queen, A Christmas Tale) is one of the most interesting French directors at work today. Jimmy P., a Michigan-shot Franco-American co-production, tells the true story of the relationship between a French psychoanalyst (Mathieu Amalric) and an American Plains Indian and WWII vet (Benicio Del Toro). This got mixed reviews at Cannes (with the most frequent criticisms being that it’s too talky and cinematically conventional) but it also had its defenders and looks right up my alley in a John Ford-meets-A Dangerous Method kind of way. Kent Jones, one of America’s finest film critics, co-wrote the screenplay.

A Touch of Sin (Jia, China)

For almost 20 years Jia Zhangke has been an important chronicler of China’s present, illustrating how ordinary citizens have been affected by the PRC’s rapidly changing social, political and economic landscapes. A Touch of Sin has been described as something of a departure in that it includes gangster-movie elements, and shows how the lives of four loosely-related characters are touched by violence. Jia took home the Best Screenplay prize for this at Cannes. The title is a play on A Touch of Zen, King Hu’s seminal martial arts movie from 1971.

Manuscripts Don’t Burn (Rasoulof, Iran)

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Mohammad Rasoulof isn’t as well known as Jafar Panahi but he’s a talented filmmaker who has likewise gotten into hot water with the Iranian authorities for his explicitly political work. His latest has something to do with two low-level government workers who are tasked with assassinating a dissident writer and making it look like a suicide. This won the FIPRESCI prize when it screened in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar. The title intriguingly alludes to a famous line from Mikhail Bulgakov’s anti-authoritarian masterpiece of Soviet literature The Master and Margarita.

Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch, USA)

Jim Jarmusch’s latest, a vampire film about centuries-old lovers played by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, received a lot of love at Cannes. Only Lovers Left Alive has been described as beautiful, poetic and funny, with — as is typical of Jarmusch — a wealth of allusions to the director’s favorite movies, music and literature. It has also been described as a tribute to the city and culture of Detroit where it was partially shot (and which Jarmusch has described as the “Paris of the Midwest”). Mia Wasikowska and John Hurt co-star.

Stranger by the Lake (Guiraudie, France)

Alain Guiraudie has won an ever-expanding cult of admirers since his feature debut Du soleil pour les gueux in 2001. In films like That Old Dream That Moves and No Rest for the Brave, he has crafted a singular style that combines Surrealism, homoeroticism, class observations and a nice feel for provincial locations in the southwest of France. Stranger By the Lake, a thriller set in a park known as a cruising spot for gay men, has upped his profile considerably: critics and audiences at Cannes responded favorably to its mix of sinister and erotic elements (including, apparently, unsimulated sex acts). This has already been picked up for distribution by Strand Releasing; given that distributor’s track record with CIFF (e.g., Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), it’s a good bet that this will turn up at the festival.

The Three Disasters (Godard, Switzerland)

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The Three Disasters is a short film by Jean-Luc Godard that is one part of a triptych known as 3X3D (the other segments are directed by Peter Greenaway and Edgar Pera). Godard’s short was named by some critics as the best film to screen at Cannes in 2013 (when it played in the Critic’s Week sidebar). This is Godard’s first movie in 3-D and it has been described, somewhat confusingly, as some kind of rough draft for his forthcoming and long-gestating 3-D feature Goodbye to Language. The Three Disasters contains clips from other films (including Piranha 3-D!) in the manner of the director’s earlier Histoire(s) du Cinema and apparently takes James Cameron to task for using 3-D technology in an uninspired fashion. This is the film I’d most like to see play at CIFF; I fear it may be impossible to see in its proper stereoscopic version otherwise.

Venus in Fur (Polanski, France)

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As with 2011’s Carnage, Venus in Fur is another stage-to-screen adaptation by Roman Polanski, although this one sounds as if it may be a return to more personal territory in terms of its content: it details the sadomasochistic relationship between a tyrannical theatrical director (Mathieu Amalric) and an actress (Emmanuelle Segnier, Polanski’s wife) who insists she is perfect for the lead role in his new play. In spite of the fact that he has lived and worked primarily in France since the late-1970s, this is the first time Polanski has directed a film in the French language. Expect great acting, sexual perversity and expert single-locale mise-en-scene.

The lineup of the 2013 Chicago International Film Festival will be released soon. You can learn more, and see a sneak preview, at: http://www.chicagofilmfestival.com


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