Few years ago with some of my dearest colleagues and friends from Italy we attended the 2nd European Psychoanalytic Film Festival. Andrea Sabbadini, an Italian colleague and fellow of the British Psychoanalytic Society was in charge of the organisation together with his committee (the first EPFF had been held two years before, in 2001), and the Festival at its second event was already doing very well. The location was and still is one of the most popular for the London movie industry: the Bafta, few steps away from the shiny Piccadilly Circus, in the heart of London.

We have hardly missed one ever since.

Attending the EPFF became a biannual must, an event I warmly recommend to anybody who wishes to have a full immersion into a ‘visual’ and ‘listening’ social, professional and friendly enriching environment; an environment and perfect setting for a unique shared experience of watching movies, projected onto a white screen, in a quiet and comfortable room, with lots of other movie fans and colleagues engaged in the same situation. You awake from the film/dream, you can make them live inside you or start sharing those still vivid feelings, emotions, and thoughts about what happened both in the movie, and in yourselves. Or later, you may wish to discuss those impressions in other sessions with a psychoanalyst and/or a movie critic, sometimes the director himself and some of the actors or screenwriters: a succulent banquette for the mind. I’m not saying anything new reminding that this kind of experience is not much far from that which occurs in our consulting room, where two people are ‘talking’ (i.e. mostly unconsciously) to each other, sharing the same space, and watching the similar scenario, that of a dream, or that of a patient’s life projected into the analytic field (Baranger & Baranger, Ogden, Ferro).

This year the EPFF Committee, whose members come now from different parts of Europe, and whose honorary chair is Director Bernardo Bertolucci, has come out with the brilliant idea of
giving the Festival the title Secrets.

You can make sure that with such an intriguing theme, anybody with a sense of curiosity (probably both psychoanalysts and movie fans) would not miss it! And so it happened, 250 people attended and more would have loved to, but this unfortunately overcomes the venue capacity.

Therefore, I’d like to share some of what I had the chance to see. I apologise but as the Festival is very rich and intense, I cannot report on every single session since this overcomes my personal capacity and the intent of this review. 

For the full program you can visit the official website (http://couchandscreen.org/epff7/) and a special edition of the magazine Eidos where you can find some reviews of the movies projected this year. 

The opening was at the Royal Society of Medicine, in Wimpole street, a beautiful building around the corner from Oxford and Bond street, the heart of the London buzzing life. The President of the British Psychoanalytic Society Nickolas Temple welcomed the audience to the exceptional event sponsored by the Institute of Psychoanalysis and stressed out how watching and discussing movies during this kind of events may be really helpful in working through difficult and sometimes not easy to digest emotions aroused by movies. Andrea Sabbadini introduced the choice of the title, and described how secrets have much in common with our work in the analytic room where patients disclose a psychological intimacy that at first may be difficult, if ever possible to reach with closest relatives or friends.

The first movie that evening was Colloque de Chiens [Conversations Among Dogs], 1977 by Raul Ruiz, a famous director of Chilean origin that moved to Paris and became an ‘avant-guard’ representative. This was one of his first successes and despite being a short and fast film, it’s intense, literary and in some way unforgettable. We are suddenly thrown into a vortex of scenes that are not classical moving sequences but side by side still photos, with a narrative voice in the background to describe what’s happening and the repetitive soundtrack by the famous Chilean composer Jorge Arriagada. These sequences may funnily enough recall to some of us those of photo-romances, a romantic story illustrated with sequential photos in the style of a comic strip that were published in female magazines and sometimes called photo-novels; they were quite popular in Italy and France in the Seventies and Eighties. But this is where the comparison dramatically ends, as the story of Ruiz’s movie is nothing but romantic; it starts as a love story (that is repeated again and again), but it always tragically turns into at first conflicts, betrayals, fights and finally a murder or murders; these crimes are mostly unsolved (they are people’s tragic secrets…) and are constantly repeated through generations; no matter how hard the protagonists try to escape and change, changing cities, partners, jobs, and even sex, it’s never enough to stop the repetition cycle of dramatic endings. A lot was discussed about these sequences of repetition and how sometimes in movies we are given a glimpse for possible resolutions, some other time we are strongly remembered how impossible may be to change and break some tragic paths coming from early traumatic experiences.

The following day Atmen [Breathing, 2011], an Austrian movie among others was projected and later discussed between the audience, the director Karl Markovics, and Donald Campbell, a well known BPaS psychoanalyst also expert in psychoanalytic understanding and treatment of troubled adolescents and who worked at the Portnam Clinic in London. For Roman, the nineteen years old protagonist, learning how to breathe and slowly to overcome his impasse in swimming while restrained in prison, will become a crucial moment between life and death, inside and outside world; initially, he will experience it passively, then as a way to question his inner world, and for the first time looking for some external ‘help’, his guardsman.
On friday afternoon Viviane Janson from the Swedish Psychoanalytic Society discussed the beautiful and intensely tragic movie Svinalangorna [Beyond, 2011]. The film opens with the scene of happy family, possibly on a Sunday morning, the couple in their double bed, joyfully playing together with their children. Soon, the warm atmosphere is interrupted by an unexpected phone call, and everything changes; the protagonist has to go and meet her mother at the hospital as she is severely ill. The two women have not met for many years, and we will dramatically discover the tragic reasons; a violetn chialhood and a parental couple empassed in a collusive sado-masochistic relationship ruled by the father’s alcoholism and mother’s confused and temperamental moods. A ‘secret’, never actually shared between the two women (and not with the loving husband) is emerging, and in a tragic crescendo what happened to the mute brother is finally revealed. A secret I will let you explore by yourselves if you wish to watch this remarkable movie.

Bernardo Bertolucci himself was then invited at the end of the projection of his last movie Io e te [Me and You, 2012]; after more than seven years since his previous, we will learn from his own words how difficult has been to come back behind the camera after health issues and how this changed dramatically his way to see things. He was very generous to open up to the audience about his personal interest in psychoanalysis and told us in a very quiet and attentive room of his stimulating family origins (Attilio Bertolucci was a great Italian poet and the film was dedicated to his brother, a director himself, who had recently died). It’s the tragic bitter sweet, at times violent story of a brother and a sister (even if in the fiction a half sister), taken from the same book by Nicolo’ Ammanniti. Unforgettable is the first scene with the young protagonist attending a session with his psychoanalyst (on a wheelchair) who is helping him to find the words for his very well ‘hidden’ feelings, with not much result. The boy will hardly say a word in a passive but same time quite provocative way as that of an adolescent can be. Nevertheless, the same night (we assume...), he will dream of his mother dancing with his shrink in their nightwear in his parents bedroom. Watching it from below a glass ceiling, we experience both the exclusion and the ironic touch together with the dreamer; a disturbing and over excited primary scene... We understand more easily that is not by chance that he will decide to hide all week in his building basement, where together with his growing self, his half sister will come and visit him with more unexpected secrets…

As if all this was not enough, the organizing committee set up a secret event on the Saturday afternoon; delayed by crazy London traffic Mike Leigh arrived, the famous English director of Secrets and Lies, Vera Drake, and more recently Another Year. Facing an intimidating crowd of psychoanalysts, he talked about the fact that as he comes from a very discreet if not too discreet family, he thinks that this might have triggered his strong sense of curiosity and the purpose of making films which mostly are exactly about revealing family.. secrets and lies.
More happened later of course, but at this point I hope I gave you a hint of what this kind of experience may be. We all look forward for the next Film festival and more shared films/dreams.

Luisa Marino
Member of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society
Guest member of the British Psychoanalytic Society


Watch video of the event:

EPFF7 Highlights from Lawrence Hunt on Vimeo.


All photos are courtesy of: Clive Robinson and Andrea Sabbadini