Melbourne 2013 Review: JIMMY P, A Psychoanalytical Slog

Director Arnaud Desplechin is a labelled auteur and no stranger to cognitive dissonance. His latest feature, direct from Cannes continues, his inquiry into the mind, but given the previous efforts, it is inexcusable how utterly dull Jimmy P is. The film makes no effort to elevate its intriguing subject matter of post-war trauma as experienced from the point of view of a Native American. Jimmy P makes David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method seem like a roller-coaster thrill ride by comparison.

The full title is Jimmy P. Psychotherapy Of A Plains Indian and that is simply what the film is, nothing less and nothing more. The year is 1948, the place is America, and the titular Blackfoot clansman is Jimmy (Benicio Del Toro), who suffers from intense headaches and temporary blindness, spawned by a past trauma. Doctors are unsure what to do with him; they have never treated a Native American, let alone one fresh from the war, and assume his mind does not operate normally. They employ a disgraced psychoanalyst, Dr. Georges Devereux (Mathieu Amalric), to provide him with car. The majority of the film is based on this man's real-life, sprawling sessions. They slowly work through Jimmy's cluttered head, revealing more than just war scars.

Jimmy P is two hours of dry conversation. Jimmy talks slowly and with purpose while Georges rants with inflections borrowed from Christoph Waltz's best characters. These men do not feel genuine, over-embellishing every action, and behaving oddly around others. To a degree they are antisocial, but the film treats them like caricatures and the supporting cast is not spared this fate either.

One explanation may stem from the fact that it is a French production, but still English language and located in period America. They have simply gotten the details and tone wrong. The sepia style feels melancholic and over-produced, the stilted reactions from each character feel tacked on, and merely additions to the hokey time and place they have failed to recreate.

Nothing production-wise adds to this. The music, props, costumes, and locations do not feel genuine. Unfortunately, this is not the worst of it. The flashbacks that Jimmy has to his life on the American plains are painful to watch. Each Native American poorly acts their way through turgid dialogue and meandering scenarios. The other sequences, which includes literal interpretations of Jimmy's explained dreams, are also trite.

Each tedious conversation gets us closer to Jimmy's trauma, but the stakes are simply not high enough to care about. Each conversation has a swelling score; it assumes this information revealed carries some immense weight, but it does not. The film drags on with no peaks in its narrative or pulse in its pacing.

The film then ends as it began, with characters shuffling off into the distance and softly speaking to each other. Jimmy P is a chore to watch and a bore to think about.


Jimmy P screened at the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival. For more of my MIFF coverage, see Twitch's MIFF landing page. Additionally, check out this review for Blue Ruin, which played at the festival this week, and was reviewed by Brian Clark here.
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