By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Cannes Competition Review: Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy Of A Plains Indian

On paper, it seemed like Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) was one of the films to beat at Cannes this year. With the equally laudable Benicio del Toro and Mathieu Amalric carrying the lead performances, Howard Shore scoring, and a story based on true events, the awards math was practically off the charts. And yet—despite these assurances—Arnaud Desplechin’s latest film is an uneven mess; a talky dud and an irrelevant adaptation that is drier than the musty library book it’s based on.

Adapted from the Georges Devereux non-fiction text “Psychothérapie d’un Indien des Plaines: Réalité et rêve,” the film depicts a Blackfoot veteran’s return from World War II and his resulting struggle with mental illness, a plot which sounded, sight unseen, a little bit like Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Good doctor Devereux (Amalric), a specialist in both psychotherapy and Mojave anthropology, is brought in from New York via train to counsel Jimmy Picard (del Toro), a broken, but honest man with good intentions. It’s a biopic drama by nature, split roughly 40-60 by Devereux and the title character, respectively.

Knowing the title, it’s safe to conclude that a), Jimmy P. is “about” one too many people; and b), the film shouldn’t be nearly two hours long. Desplechin wants us to care about Picard’s general well-being and mental health, but nevertheless found it necessary to include the dullest of banal subplots that have nothing to do with the title character’s arc, coming off as excess and general shoe leather. Indeed, the problem of disposable footage exists both on the micro and the macro: certain characters could be excised entirely; the same is true for scenes that drag on for no benefit to the story (a guard stopping to check Devereux’s train ticket stands out as but a single example of the micro).

As the film’s superfluousness goes, Gina McKee’s Madeleine, Devereux’s mistress, does little but smile and waste time on screen, adding padding to a narrative that already has the stakes equivalent to a lemonade stand on the brink of bankruptcy. If the modus operandi of most Oscar films is try and stay important or relevant to contemporary issues—and make no mistake, the trophy baiting here is at its try-hard worst—then Jimmy P. will likely prove to be the most “useless” film this awards season; in a boring irony, the film both says far too much and far too little. The droning, uninspired dialogue provides little payoff, while the film’s treatment of its themes is too dry and lacking to really zing.

In terms of the actual psychotherapy and its depiction, Desplechin punctuates the standard shot-reverse-shot between intense close-ups and quick zooms. Initially jarring, these moments underline the scrutiny of the analysis and resurrect the dying drama. Also accomplished are the brief dream sequences, which are visually striking and interesting respites from  the more flat-lining conversations.

The film could have been improved with another pass on the script, which is riddled with supporting lines that sound plastic and chunky. Further tipping the boat is Desplechin’s fraudulent exposition, cheating us with characters who tell us the story to our faces—and barely to the other characters—without any attempt to keep things natural. Thankfully, this is less of an issue once we find ourselves in the psychotherapy scenes: when the film embraces its two-handed conceit and lets Amalric and del Toro do their jobs, the film comes back to life. And while del Toro’s performance and Blackfoot accent are admittedly very impressive, it’s disappointing they aren’t an even bigger focus. The opposite is true for Mathieu Amalric: despite the best attempts at his character, Desplechin has spent far too much screen time for anything outside of specifically Jimmy Picard to matter.

2 Responses to “Cannes Competition Review: Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy Of A Plains Indian”

  1. Sandy says:

    Sorry to hear it.

  2. June bug says:

    What a bore this movie was. Queuing up in the rain to get into the theatre was more fun than sitting through it.

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Julian Schnabel: Years ago, I was down there with my cousin’s wife Corky. She was wild — she wore makeup on her legs, and she had a streak in her hair like Yvonne De Carlo in “The Munsters.” She liked to paint. I had overalls on with just a T-shirt and looked like whatever. We were trying to buy a bunch of supplies with my cousin Jesse’s credit card. They looked at the credit card, and then they looked at us and thought maybe we stole the card, so they called Jesse up. He was a doctor who became the head of trauma at St. Vincent’s. They said, “There’s somebody here with this credit card and we want to know if it belongs to you.”

He said, “Well, does the woman have dyed blonde hair and fake eyelashes and look like she stepped out of the backstage of some kind of silent movie, and is she with some guy who has wild hair and is kind of dressed like a bum?”

“Yeah, that’s them.”

“Yeah, that’s my cousin and my wife. It’s okay, they can charge it on my card.”
~ Julian Schnabel Remembers NYC’s Now-Shuttered Pearl Paint

MB Cool. I was really interested in the aerial photography from Enter the Void and how one could understand that conceptually as a POV, while in fact it’s more of an objective view of the city where the story takes place. So it’s an objective and subjective camera at the same time. I know that you’re interested in Kubrick. We’ve talked about that in the past because it’s something that you and I have in common—

GN You’re obsessed with Kubrick, too.

MB Does he still occupy your mind or was he more of an early influence?

GN He was more of an early influence. Kubrick has been my idol my whole life, my own “god.” I was six or seven years old when I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I never felt such cinematic ecstasy. Maybe that’s what brought me to direct movies, to try to compete with that “wizard of Oz” behind the film. So then, years later, I tried to do something in that direction, like many other directors tried to do their own, you know, homage or remake or parody or whatever of 2001. I don’t know if you ever had that movie in mind for your own projects. But in my case, I don’t think about 2001 anymore now. That film was my first “trip” ever. And then I tried my best to reproduce on screen what some drug trips are like. But it’s very hard. For sure, moving images are a better medium than words, but it’s still very far from the real experience. I read that Kubrick said about Lynch’s Eraserhead, that he wished he had made that movie because it was the film he had seen that came closest to the language of nightmares.

Matthew Barney and Gaspar Noé