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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