by Jan Lumholdt
- VENICE 2019: Danish feature debutant Marie Grahtø’s asylum tale is a veritable Lego box full of twisted cinematic paraphernalia
“I want you to treat her in this ward. Only Jenny.”
“I have no practical experience in psychiatry.”
“I know of your research. If one were inclined to the dramatic, one might say you could succeed where all others failed.”
More or less from frame one of her assured feature debut, Danish director Marie Grahtø makes it crystal-clear what kind of journey we’re embarking on. The main protagonist of the aptly titled Psychosia [+see also:
interview: Marie Grahtø
film profile], playing in the International Film Critics’ Week section of the 2019 Venice International Film Festival, is autodidact suicide analyst Viktoria (Swede Lisa Carlehed, switching effortlessly back and forth into Danish), and then there’s Jenny (Victoria Carmen Sonne, of Holiday [+see also:
film profile] fame, consolidating her position as a Euro screen it girl). The head of the psychiatric ward, Dr Klein (the ever-durable Trine Dyrholm), entrusts the somewhat eccentric but possibly brilliant expert with the untamed young patient, who since childhood has “navigated the world alone” and sees the hospital as her home. This, it is decided, must change.
The conscientious and disciplined Viktoria is brought onto the premises (the movie was shot on location at Sankt Hans Hospital in Roskilde, a genuine former asylum that becomes its own timeless character here, thanks in no small part to cinematographer Catherine Pattinama Coleman’s atmospheric lensing) and sets out to take on the challenge she’s up against. Jenny, a tough nut to crack, basks in a variety of provocative moves, some with sexual under- and overtones, severely testing Viktoria’s prim disposition. Will Viktoria manage to form a bond of trust, or will Jenny, either through will or through nature, succeed in spellbinding Viktoria’s beautiful mind, drawing her deeper into these corridors of shock and bedlam?
It’s classic ground, with playful visions of the twisted, as Grahtø brings in a veritable Lego box of Freudian, Victorian and cinematic paraphernalia. Ingmar Bergman’s spirit in particular soars over the universe, with Viktoria’s dress and hairstyle clearly inspired by Ingrid Thulin in both The Face and Cries and Whispers (which means the choice of a Swedish actor in the role makes even more sense) as well as some iconic “face-merging” à la Persona among the ingredients. Such archetypes being noted (and enjoyed!), Grahtø certainly creates her own brand of Scandinavian Gothic, in an attempt to define a means of turning an abnormal condition into an aesthetic.
This should go quite well together with what Grahtø herself – who has already touched on similar themes in her acclaimed student shorts Daimi and Teenland – has labelled “psychotic realism”, an expression harbouring poetry as well as artistry. Or, as Dr Klein asks Viktoria: “Are you? Inclined to the dramatic?” If you are, you will find Psychosia quite a captivating journey – and hopefully there will be more explorations to look forward to from its adventurous helmer.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.