On YourScreen: ‘Summer of Hope’

YourScreen, the Cheltenham-based streaming service, has an interesting collection of new foreign-language and independent films at the moment, under the ‘Summer of Hope’ banner.

This is part of ‘Film Feels’ project devised by the BFI Film Hub Midlands, which funnels money from the National Lottery, the film industry and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport into what is called ‘cultural’ film. Well, all film is cultural, but you kind of see what they mean.

If a film organisation ticked the project’s boxes, it got a small grant, as well as a modest discount on its pre-selected films. I thought about doing this with CFS, but I decided against. Too much politics.

Anyway, YourScreen is a commercial organisation, and it is willing to play the game. It has found some excellent films.

Newly arrived is Calamity.

Calamity (2020)

Go get ’em, girl

A biography of the true-life Calamity Jane, real name Martha Jane Cannary. Directed by Rémi Chayé in what is referred to as an ‘outline-less’ animation style, with rather beautiful backdrops based on classic travel posters. The moving parts (people’s faces, for instance) look a bit computer-generated to me, but then I’m old-school when it comes to animation. I like Stroud’s very own Halas & Bachelor.

Summer Survivors (2018)

Summer Survivors (2018) is a first film by Lithuanian director Marija Kavtardze. It’s about patients and staff in a psychiatric hospital in Vilnius. It may also be the best film about mental illness – as opposed to that modern quasi-religion, mental health – that I have ever seen. And I have seen lots.

From the start, it captures the endless confusion about identity and motivation that characterises the world of the psychiatry. A smart, rather anxious young woman sits in a car outside a psychiatric hospital. Another woman, wearing the mask-like face of the drugged and the depressed, arrives to ask if she needs anything. Indre replies that she is waiting to see a doctor. But when she gets inside, the doctor can’t be bothered. He’s busy, he says. He’s playing backgammon.

As they discuss this, some parents arrive, worried about their daughter. Dr Dumauskas sends them away. She is 25, he says, so her treatment is none of their business. Later, he tells the depressed girl that her problem is lack of sun. ‘It’s driving everyone crazy.’ He tells her she needs to get outside.

Indre, it emerges, is a bright young psychology graduate, not a patient. She doesn’t want anything to do with the mentally ill. She just wants to set up a biofeedback machine (a box whose sound changes as the patient relaxes) and collect data about its effectiveness. The drugged-looking, depressed woman who approached her car is not a patient either: Danguole is a nurse. And is Dr Dumauskas the crass, careless man he seems? No. He was playing backgammon with a patient, Paulius. The stuff about the depressed patient’s parents, and the sunlight, is based on 30 years of experience.

Next, though, we meet two very difficult cases. Juste is suicidal. She doesn’t suffer from suicidal ideation, which is what many of us experience from time to time, the desire not to exist. She actually takes steps in that direction: relentlessly. Her arms are a battlefield of self-inflicted wounds and scars, new and old.

And then there’s Paulius, the backgammon player. He suffers, says Dr Dumauskas, from ‘manic depression’.

‘Oh, bipolar,’ says Indre, who is young and consequently knows everything. ‘Shouldn’t we say bipolar? That’s what it’s called now.’

‘Tell him that and he’ll fine right away,’ says the doctor, wearily. I’m with him. Manic-depression was one of the two psychoses (the other is schizophrenia) recognised in classical psychiatry: bipolar was a late 1960s rebranding by drug companies, eager to sell end-of-patent anti-depressants to people who are sometimes happy and sometimes sad … which is just about everybody.

Agreeing to let Indre do her research, but only if she spends a decent amount of time helping him with the patients first, he tells her that Paulius is on the edge of an ‘episode change’. He is up, and in such times he is invincible at backgammon. But soon he will be down.

Algis (people who like the doctor use his first name, always a contentious matter in medical circles) faces a struggle of his own. Clinic management (younger and less experienced than he is) want Paulius discharged: keeping him there till he gets better is too expensive. But Algis hatches a plan. He will let Indre drive Paulius and Juste to a clinic in Palinga, on the coast. So that everything is above board, Danguole will go too.

And then the adventures begin. It’s not a road-movie, but it has elements of that. The four (and then three, since Danguole is accidentally left behind) travel in a hospital car. They talk (Paulius has been mute: now he’s not), they argue, they give each other advice and sympathy, they flirt (Paulius claims to have slept with 10 women in the previous week, which is quite possible: now he’s on Venlaxafine, a SSRI anti-depressant, which putteth on the desire but taketh away the performance), There is singing. They meet Paulius’s brother, and learn about his mother. Their lives are at least as disordered and irrational as Paulius’s, but he’s the family member who got the psychiatric label. From the start, everyone lies to everyone else. They claim to be relatives taking a trip to the seaside. Indre pretends the car has broken down, to explain why she has not kept to the agreed schedule for the trip.

Anyway, I could go on. It’s funny and wise. Psychiatry in Lithuania is, in this film, just clinging on to its humanity, because a few older, wiser individuals are resisting the drive for the quick fix: drugs, incarceration, drugs, release onto the streets, more drugs, incarceration again. We are even further ahead. We have telephone helplines, online programmes and, of course, apps. A nice old-fashioned asylum, meaning a place of to rest and recover in peace and safety? Sorry, no budget.

It’s not a depressing film, by the way. They arrive at the seaside. That always cheers me up.

The rest

Time for Love

A Polish-language comedy-drama directed by a Colombian, Miguel J. Vélez, about farcical/romantic encounters on a train just before Christmas. Not seen it, but the trailer looks entertaining. Vélez is clearly familiar with Jíri Menzel’s Czech new-wave classic Closely Observed Trains (1966). YourScreen’s website includes the dread word ‘tropes’, but don’t let that put you off.

The Outside Story

This soft-centred indie comedy features a strong central performance by Brian Tyree Henry as Charles, a mild mannered if mildly irascible film-buff editor, locked out of his Brooklyn apartment in unsuitable clothing and attempting to regain access (without ever contacting a locksmith). A series of quirky encounters ensue, with neighbours, friends, cops and passers by. Along the way Charles makes new friends and learns a few home truths. 

Writer director Casimir Nozkowski  paints an affirmative and witty picture of a diverse and rainbow community, with Brooklyn’s brownstone architecture lovingly photographed in crisp, muted colours. There’s plenty of heart – the letdown is the script. Charles is only ever very mildly put out or threatened, and something more muscular was maybe needed to allow this comic urban fable to take flight. (Writes SMF.)

Those Who Remained

Directed by French-born Barnabás Tóth, this is an unusual post-Holocaust film, focusing on a survivor, a 42-year-old gynaecologist, who chooses to stay in Budapest after the war and into its Stalinist occupation. He meets a 16-year-old girl, another survivor, who is convinced her own parents are coming back. The film has been highly praised on the festival circuit.

Window to the Sea

A Spanish woman with terminal cancer takes off to a photogenic Greek island, Nisyros, where she falls in love with a grizzled fisherman who teaches her about life. Well, seen it before, more than once: but it does have wonderful Emma Suárez, star of Almodóvar’s Julieta, as the lead, so I’m not completely writing it off on the basis of the trailer, tempting though that is.

But Beautiful

Cinematic hymn to optimism and the beautiful possibilities of the world by Erwin Wagenhofer. Includes a grinning Dali Lama, but not too much of him, I hope. Not available until August 20. Can we wait that long?

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