Report Ninth European Psychoanalytic Film Festival (epff9)
Londra, BAFTA, 2-5 November 2017
by Elisabetta Marchiori
Under the artistic direction of psychoanalyst Andrea Sabbadini, a sold-out ninth edition of The European Psychoanalytic Film Festival on the theme of “Interiors/Exteriors” opened on Thursday 2 November in London with a welcome meeting at the Royal Society of Medicine. Some three hundred delegates, many of them young, attended from all over the world. Upon registration they were offered a bilingual, mono-thematic issue of Eidos - cinema psyche and visual arts on “Interiors/Exteriors”, a magazine edited and written by analysts and film scholars (www.eidoscinema.it).
Cathy Bronstein, President of the British Psychoanalytical Society, introduced the Festival, emphasizing the great significance of this initiative, unique in its kind. She focused on the theme "Interior/Exteriors" which allows the exploration of what belongs to the internal world and the unconscious, and what concerns the external world and objective reality.
Sabbadini, in the following intervention, pointed out that the "slash" (/) between the two words has the dual function of separating the two worlds and, at the same time, of keeping them together, referring to the fact that they can coexist harmoniously or enter into conflict.
Laura Mulvey, Professor of Film at Birkbeck College (University of London), gave some theoretical and historical background to the genre of “shorts”, as an introduction to the screening of three of them. The first one, “Inside/Outside. An Audiovisual Essay” (Jonathan Isserow 2017, 3', UK) is an effective three-minute summary of the evolution of our psychoanalytic knowledge of the internal world.
The second one, “Portrait” (Angela Feeney and Susanne Lansman 2017, 4', UK), offered a metaphor of psychoanalytic discourse, through the relationship between a painter and his model.
The last one, “Benigni” (Elli Vuorinen, Jasmiini Ottelin and Pinja Partanen 2009, 7', Finland) is "stop-motion" animation, moving and disturbing at the same time, which deals with the themes of loneliness, illness and separation.
On Friday morning, in the prestigious venue of Bafta, epff9 began with the interdisciplinary panel "Interiors/Exteriors: psychoanalytic, cinematic, and architectural perspectives", with psychoanalyst Michael Brearley, film historian Peter Evans, and architectural historian Jane Rendell, with Andrea Sabbadini in the chair. Brearley, who was a successful cricket player and has just published a book entitled “On Form”, focused his talk on what happens in the consulting room. The outside world, as well as the domestic one, can afford multiple interpretations, and therefore we must be careful not to impose perspective on our patients. In this connection, Brearley drew our attention to the ambiguous drawing representing either a duck or a rabbit.
Sabbadini commented that "the art of psychoanalysis" consists in finding the right distance from (or closeness to) the patients’ internal world in order to get in touch with their internal world without invading it.
Peter Evans discussed the correlations between narrative structure and staging, emphasizing the symbolic importance of details in the construction of the interior and exterior spaces of a cinematographic work.
Jane Rendell presented some of the ideas contained in her recent book “The architecture of psychoanalysis: space of transition”, where she explores the correlations between the idea of space in architecture and in psychoanalysis. She made references to the contributions of Freud, Winnicott and Green and illustrated the concept of "social condenser", which refers to the Russian constructivist theory according to which the organization of architectural spaces can influence social behavior.
The first feature to be screened was “Flickan, mamman och demonerna” (“The Girl, the Mother And The Demon”, 2015, 92 ', Sweden), by Suzanne Osten, a director well known in Sweden also for her work in children's theater. The film describes a mother in a psychotic hallucinatory delirium, whose internal world is populated by persecutory demons, projected externally in the house where she lives with her young daughter. This girl is a witness to her mother’s progressive destructiveness; she grows up in a neglectful environment, and is saved only in extremis from her mother’s destructiveness. The director, during the panel discussion, chaired by psychotherapist Laura Forti, Osten said that her film, originated from an autobiographical experience, was helpful in sharing with its audience what it means to suffer from serious mental disorders. The other panelist, Swedish psychoanalyst Anders Berge, pointed out how disturbing such film is in making its viewers almost physically perceive the growing fear of the young protagonist, who does not seem to understand the enormous risk to which she is exposed. It is the spectator who feels those feelings in her place, hoping that she will be able to free herself from her mother’s demons. The psychoanalyst, in the encounter with psychotic patients, experiences similar feelings and has to enter into emotional resonance with them, and recognize and respect their experiences, if not sharing them.
During the panel “Landscapes”, chaired by the psychoanalyst Kannan Navaratnem, a member of the epff organising committee, Caroline Bainbridge, Professor of Culture and Psychoanalysis at the University of Roehampton, brought some reflections of her work on “Orlando” (1992) directed by Sally Potter, a film about death and immortality. The ambiguous protagonist overcomes the limits of sexual differences in order to reach his symbolic subjectivity.
Lesley Caldwell, psychoanalyst and member of the epff organising committee, underlined how in Antonioni’s “Il grido” locations and human relationships emphasise aloneness and emptiness. In his work Antonioni created a reciprocity between landscape and narrative, minimishing the events themselves and giving greater importance to the scene in which those events happen.
Thorugh Helke Sander’s film “The wall in the head” (1977), Erica Carter, Professor of German and Film at King's College London, explored symbolic relationships between geographical and identity bounderies in Berlin, in the aftermath of National Socialism and the Cold War division.
The film “Fritz Lang” (2016, 104', Germany), discussed with its director and writer Gordian Maugg and psychoanalysts Sabine Wollnik-Krusche and Gerhard Schneider (chair), was described as a visual-psychoanalytic study of Lang’s film “M, The Monster Of Dusseldorf” (1931). Lang was one of the most significant German directors during the Weimar Republic. “Fritz Lang” tells how the director had undertaken a personal investigation into some heinous crimes committed in Germany, which gave him the inspiration for the realization of his masterpiece. Maugg explored the psychic dynamics of his character's complex personality, creating a psychoanalytically convincing three-dimensional portrait by assembling fictional scenes with archival materials. The discussion delved into different issues, in particular that of guilt, since Lang was rather mysteriously involved with the violent death of his first wife. Maugg’s black and white film was shot in cramped and depressing interiors which convey to the viewer the claustrophobic sense of having no way out, just as the exteriors are characterized by narrow, equally imprisoning horizons.
On the dialogue “Screen as skin and landscape”, chaired by Lesley Caldwell, Cheryl Moskowitz, a member of the epff organising committee, writer and trained in psychodynamic counselling and dramatherapy , and Claudia Fuortes, architect and PhD candidate at the University of West London, using an interdisciplinary approach, explored the relationships between interior and exterior spaces on the cinematic point of view through an analysis of the contemporary films “Un homme qui dort” (1974) by Bernard Queysanne, “Exibition” (2013) by Joanna Hogg and “Home” (2008) by Ursula Meier.
The film "La puerta abierta" ("The Open Door", 2016, 82 ', Spain) is, as said Peter Evans, chairman of the panel with psychoanalyst Carol Topolski, an intersction between a fairy tale and social realism. Protagonists are the inhabitants of a shabby building in a suburb of Madrid, living in cramped and dark flats overlooking a courtyard, that is the scene of continuous quarrels. The main characters are two prostitutes, mother and daughter, a transsexual and a little orphan girl left. The director, Marina Sereseski, explained that, taking as a reference the Spanish, Italian and Argentine cinema, she wanted to find the "exact point" between comedy and drama. Her interest in not on the issue of prostitution, which remains in the background, but rather on that of motherhood and the female. The male and the father figure are absent, or connected to violence, abandonment and betrayal.
On the lecture “From Shoah To Son Of Saul: An Intergenerational Dialogue”, chaired by David Bell, Cathrine Portuges presented the work of two post-holocaust filmakers, engaged in the difficult task of represent the “unrepresentable”. Claude Lanzma’s “Shoah” (1985) e Lásló Nemes’s “Son of Saul” (2015) are the extraordinary result of two directors of different generation that are confronted with a terrible historical reality.
As of tradition, a restored English classic was shown on Friday evening, "Room At The Top" (Jack Clayton, 1959, UK 115 ‘). It are discussed the following morning by Peter Evans (chairman) with the historigrapher Charles Drazin and the psychoanalyst Michael Halton. The film, for which Simone Signoret won the Oscar, was the first in Britain to capture the spirit of a post-war society that was struggling to transform itself. The young protagonist, a social climber employee, manages to marry the daughter of a wealthy businessman, sacrificing his love for a charming woman, unhappily married and older than him. What a man or women feels interiorly and what showns outwardly cannot correspond and, in the conflict between authenticity and social mask, the second wins. The core theme of the film is still very present: the destruction of deep and meaningful relationships.
The opening film of the day on Saturday was the Israeli "A Week And A Day" (Asaph Polonsky 2016, 97 ', Israel) whose theme is the elaboration of mourning and the changes in relationships that a serious loss involves. The protagonists are Vicky and Eyal, who have just completed the ceremonial week (shiva) for the young son who died of cancer, shown in the development, within a single day, of different strategies to manage the pain and face the drama of death.
During the panel, which was attended by Yevgenia Dodina, the main actress, the professional photographer and artist Noa Ben-Nun Melamed, the psychoanalysts Shimshon Wigod and Emanuel Berman (chairman) it was highlighted how the play and a creativity are the main tools to allow, as Winnicott theorized, the beginning of a process of the mourning and of the resolution of an existential crisis. The traumatic experience of loss, although common to every human being, is experienced by each in a different and unpredictable way. As in the Spanish film "La puerta abierta", the drama is reinterpreted as a comedy, impregnated with surreal humor. It is important to underline that this film has a particularly radical and subversive meaning for Israeli culture in which, against the backdrop of various wars, the ethos of mourning the dead has been totally institutionalized.
This was followed by two documentary films, the first shot in Latvia, "Dokumentalists" ("The Documentarian" Ivares Zviedris and Inese Klava 2012, 82 ', Latvia), the second in the Italian island of Lampedusa, "Fuocoammare" ( "Fire at Sea ", Gianfranco Rosi 2016, 114 min, Italy). In their diversity, both raise fundamental questions about the need of documentary cinema to deal with reality and fiction:
"The documentarian" concerns the extremely tiring progressive emotional approach, between Inta, a suspicious and angry elderly woman, and the young director. He discussed this experience with the psychoanalysts Helen Taylor Robinson and Silvija Lejniece (chairman). The concept of "triangular space" by Ronald Britton was mentioned, according to which the camera offers the possibility of observing object relations and human relationships.
“Fuocoammare”, directed by Gianfranco Rosi, winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and nominated for the Academy Award for the Best Documentary category, shows the drama of the migrant crisis, using the encounter between the directors and the characters, at the first Samuele, a twelve years old boy, and the physician Pietro Bartolo.
Sequences of the film consist of fragments of stories edited into a sort of a mosaic: on the one hand there are the tiles belonging to the daily “tiny” lives of the islanders, the representation of “interior”. On the other hand the mosaic is made up of tiles which are outside and without a place for them, the migrants, the “exterior”.
The metaphor which mirrors us viewers is that of the ‘lazy eye’ of young Samuele, that need a training to watch and see better, to focus, whit the images, the troughts about the migrants drama. Rosi refuses to look away, gives no concessions to uncertainties, is determined to show even what none of us would like to see.
During the panel discussion, with psychoanlysts Roberto Goisis and Elisabetta Marchiori (chair), Italian consultant of consulente epff, the film critic Dario Zonta, expert in documentary and experimental cinema, and Artistic Producer (who played a central role on the making of the film), explained what is “the truth” in a documentary, the importante of the relathionships between the director and the caracters.
In the context of not losing sight of the migrants’ tragedy, the Italian Psychoanalytic Society has established in May 2016 the ‘European Psychoanalysts for Refugees’ (EPR) working group, with the aim to coordinate projects of clinical support, psychoanalytic training and supervision, thus promoting initiatives already operating throughout the national territory. Let us remember what the doctor from Lampedusa had to say: ‘Helping these people is the duty of any man who is truly a man’.
Another blockbuster in Italy, the award-winning "Perfetti sconosciuti" ("Perfect Strangers", Paolo Genovese, 2016, 97', Italy), has attracted many spectators, and has been discussed by the screenwriter Paola Mammini, by psychoanalysts Kannan Navaratnem and Rossella Valdré (chairman). This film, a bittersweet comedy with dramatic content, makes the viewers face of questios with not obvious answers: “Do we really know the Other, the people closest to us? Must we know his or her secrets?
The plot is simple: a group of friends, mostly couples, meet up for dinner, and one of them launches the idea of a dangerous game, each one putting their mobile phone on the table and sharing every coming phone call, message and e-mails. The tension grows up and becames difficult to tolerate and manage it, while the secrets of each of them are showing up with the "private spaces of the Self”.
The discussion focused on the "double" nature of the secret - benign and constructive/ malignant and destructive - and on that of the unhappiness of the family. The success of the film is related to the fact that every viewer can feel identified: we are all vulnerable and fragile, in the need of narcissistic confirmation and we are afraid to look inside and deal with each other.
In the afternoon, "Chuck Norris vs. Communism" (Ilinca Calugareanu 2015, 78', Romania) was screened, an extraordinary film about Irina Nilson, currently the most important Romanian film critic, translator and interpreter. During the Ceausescu regime, dubbed a large amount of foreign forbidden films, especially from the USA. The film puts together sequences of fiction and archival material, creating a mixture of drama, comedy and noir which shows the creative force of cinema, in its potential: key to access to the unconscious, window on the world, opportunity to socialize and to share culture.
In that context, cinema fulfilled the miracle of allowing the outside world to enter a brutally isolated country, as well as in the persons in need of knowing, living and dreaming freely.
The discussion panel was able to gather, around the chair Laura Manu, a psychoanalyst of Romanian origin, who lives and works in London (member of the organizing committee of epff), the actress Ana Maria Moldovan, who plays Irina Nistor in the film, and the young director Ilinca Calugareanu. She told us that the idea of the film was born during epff6, when she recognized in the voice of a participant in a debate that one heard from films watched in childhood, beloved by all Romanians, which had no face: that of Irina Nistor. A female voice that had the function of the maternal voice that tells thet fairy tales, which allow the child to overcome conflicts and dramas thanks to the ability to identify with the invincible hero. That secret experience allowed the Romanians to cultivate an artistic and political sensibility and played a role in the birth of Romanian contemporary cinema.
At the end of the daythe documentary “Sigmund Freud. Origini e attualità della Psicoanalisi” (“Sigmund Freud. The Origins of Psychoanalysis and its Relevance to Modern Times”, Alessandra Balloni 2015, 56, Italia), written, directed and produced by the psychoanalyst Alessandra Balloni (with Italian Psychoanalytic Society support) was shown.
It is made up of different elements: scenes shot “ad hoc”, archive sequences, film’s scenes, photographs, interviews of four Italian psychoanalists (Anna Ferruta, Cono Aldo Barnà, Tiziana Bastianini, Antonino Ferro) and one philosopher (Carlo Sini). It is presented as an “outreach” project, intended to reach anyone potentially interested in psychoanalysis. During the panel discussion with the psychoanalyst Romolo Petrini, chaired by Andrea Sabbadini, Balloni told us that she tried to utilize the creative and communicative potential of connections between psychoanalysis, literature, music, painting, cinema.
On Sunday morning the psychoanalyst Igor Kadyrov presented the project on cinema and psychoanalysis developed in Moscow on the example of epff, The Russian Psychoanalytic Film Festival, whose first edition took place in 2014 and which was born and developed as the work of a close-knit and enthusiastic group.
This was followed by the screening of a series of shorts introduced by the psychoanalyst Michael Halton, a member of the organizing committee of epff.
"Now, Listen" (Clifford Yorke 1972, 5', UK) was created and directed by Clifford Yorke, a pioneer of English psychoanalysis, a man of profound and broad culture, ranging from literature, cinema, music to the game of chess. His son John Yorke, a famous British television producer and executive, who worked for the BBC, intervened to present this surprising short film on the difficulty of communication. As director of Channel Four and responsible for the production of fiction for British public TV, he contributed to the success of numerous products such as the series Life On Mars.
Next was "Procter" (Joachim Trier 2002, 18', Norway), introduced by Ian Christie, the story of a man who accidentally finds a burning car, while the scene is taken by a camera placed on a tripod. The man embezzled and watched the video, that shooted the last life day of the suicided man until his death. For him It becomes a challenge to understand what happened, as if he identified deeply with the suicide or his rational part was seeking a motivation for an apparently unexplained gesture.
The very last short film "I Think This Is The Closest To how the footage Looked" (Yuval Hameiri 2012, 9 ', Israel), introduced by Emanuel Berman, is a moving autobiographical work, in which the director, ten years after the death of his mother suffering from cancer, reconstructs the last day of the mother’s life through the objects belonged to her, from his memories. Cinema, like other forms of art, reveals itself as a means of giving meaning and giving life even to inanimate objects, when everything seems lost.
The festival ended with the plenary session conducted by Ian Christie and Andrea Sabbadini who, after put in evidence the major features that characterized this edition of epff, offered time to public interventions and discussion, which was articulated and such in ideas.
We are looking forward to epff10, which will take place in London from 31st October to 3rd November 2019, and its main theme will be “The End”.
Watch the highlights from the Festival.