Improbable mix Georges Devereux was a Jewish Hungarian ethno-anthropologist who studied in France, specialized in Colorado’s Mojave Native Americans, and practiced at Topeka Winter Military Hospital. His 1921 Reality and Dream is just as much unlikely for screen adaptation as Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian, a premičre here at the 2013 New York Film Festival.
By Skype, director and Festival veteran Arnaud Desplechin insisted that his co-written screenplay is less about shell shock, then as yet re-baptized as PTSD, than about the coming together, to find trust in common ground, of two men from the most disparate cultural and intellectual backgrounds imaginable. “How positive these guys were, they felt equal. If we can stick together, perhaps it will be a better country.”
A strange if hopeful movie unlike his past Festival family comedies, this is a story for two characters. There are flashbacks to the past of divorced Blackfoot-tribe Jimmy Picard (Benicio del Toro). There are bare hints of the past of unorthodox, officially unrecognized and unlicensed twice-divorced Dr. (Ph.D. not M.D.) Devereux (Mathieu Amalric). In their “. . . true story” tracing of clinical psychoanalysis, there are uncovered issues of mother, Oedipus, sex and love; but despite the unnecessary if palatable visit of the good doctor’s married Parisian lover Madeleine (Gina McKee), there is a refreshing rare lack of screen flesh in his or Jimmy’s love lives.
In Browning, Montana, three years after V-E Day, Jimmy lives and works at older sister Gayle’s (Michelle Thrush) family ranch. Intermittent since the false herring of a fall from a jeep in liberated though still wartime France, vision, hearing and motor difficulties intensify, prompting a trip to Topeka for comprehensive check-up and treatment.
At the (Veterans’ Administration) Hospital founded by Dr. Karl Menninger (Larry Pine) and his father Charles Frederick, young Dr. Holt (Joseph Cross) finds nothing bodily wrong with this second of two Indian patients -- the other (A. Martinez) a wheelchaired catatonic -- insanity or schizophrenia is ruled out and, on the basis of his cultural studies and of contacts, Devereux is summoned from Brooklyn to try his luck.
Sickly, small, short-sighted, European and Pall Mall-smoking but open-minded, Amalric’s ebullient doctor is more human, overall believable, than Christoph Waltz’ DDS doctor King Schultz. His frame is a small Simon’s to Del Toro’s hulking tall Garfunkel, and his accented garrulousness a contrast to the other’s slow deliberate uninflected English. A father’s early death, a mother’s observed lovemaking, sexual manipulation by the elder sister of a drowning girl he did not save, youthful misunderstanding with mature love Jane White Cloud (Misty Upham) and estrangement from their daughter Marylou, capped by a Dear John from wife Lily, all are to come out for confrontation and addressing.
These past events accumulate though arguably of less importance than withdrawn Jimmy’s finding an encouraging confidant through whom to find himself. Racism and ethnicity are not seized upon as facile whipping boys, only one “Sir, you call me Jim, not Chief.” Nor is the film a plea for help for our traumatized veterans, and Jimmy’s future is not broached. Clinical though not as dry as its title, JP is closet drama-ish in lacking visualizable movement, so this is no crowd-pleaser. What it is, rather, is the playing off of two actors in the developing of rapport and empathy between two very different human beings. Emotional more than psychotherapeutic, through words and not overt actions it delivers both Jimmy and Devereux and frees them.
(Released by Why Not Productions; not rated by MPAA.)