Review: Days of Madness
by Vladan Petkovic
- Croatian filmmaker Damian Nenadić gives a camera to two mentally-ill individuals so that they can film themselves for his first feature-length documentary
The approach that Croatian filmmaker Damian Nenadić picked for his first feature-length documentary, Days of Madness [+see also:
film profile], involved giving cameras to several patients will mental illnesses so that they could film themselves, before editing the hundreds of hours of footage into a 73-minute film. Said approach has its disadvantages, but the final result makes for a raw, touching and, in many ways, eye-opening viewing experience. The film world-premiered at ZagrebDox, where it received a special mention in the regional competition.
Although he initially selected more potential protagonists, for various ethical and legal reasons Nenadić ended up with footage from two people that he was able to use, and in the opening scene of the film we see them together. Mladen and Maja seem almost like two normal young people as they make fun of the sheer number of drugs they have to take, but we soon learn that what we perceive as their youthfulness is actually the flipside of their diagnoses. Both are over 40, and Mladen seems to have a form of schizophrenia, while Maja, who identifies as a man, suffers from a borderline disorder.
The film, edited by Sandra Bastašić, seems to follow the form that these illnesses take, alternating between their shorter good spells and longer bad ones. Maja ends up in hospital as her liver malfunctions from all the drugs she is taking, while on the other hand, Mladen has a tough time with his parents, with his father forbidding him from filming in their house. Mladen is also trying to tackle his issues, among other things, by dealing with a priest who once told him that psychiatry cannot help the spirit and that he must turn to God instead. Maja blames her parents for the way she has turned out. There is a very disturbing scene in which she lays out photographs of her parents on a table, cursing them and saying they copped out by dying, before crying on her mother's grave.
Initially, Days of Madness feels almost like an amateur video project, because that is essentially what it consists of, with protagonists narrating what they are doing as they film, ("here I am making a coffee"), but as the film progresses we come to understand that it’s a cry for help, an attempt to raise awareness, and a social critique. Our heroes do not only have to fight their illnesses, they are also faced with an obsolete health system and lack of understanding from their families and a religious, patriarchal society. Maja was told by her therapist that her transgenderness is triggering her bipolar disorder, while Mladen is convinced by his parents’ attitude that he is to blame for his problems, increasing his feelings of guilt and shame. After all, it was his mother who thought it was a better idea to visit a priest rather than a doctor. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to a therapeutic workshop led by famous Croatian actor Leon Lučev, where they are encouraged to describe and act out their troubles in order to more easily confront them.
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