- In his documentary, Francesco Munzi tackles the topic of mental illness with respect and empathy, giving a voice to psychiatric patients from a therapeutic community in Rome
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, cases of mental distress, especially among adolescents, have risen by 30% in Europe. Yet in Italy, mental health services are among the most affected by the reduction of resources invested in public health. Considering these two facts after seeing Kripton by Francesco Munzi, shown in a special screening at the 18th Rome Film Fest and playing in Italian cinemas from 18 January via ZaLab, creates a real shock. Created as part of the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Franco Basaglia – the Italian psychiatrist after whom is named the law which in 1978 sanctioned the closure of mental hospitals, inaugurating a new method of treating mental illness, more attentive to the individuality and humanity of patients – the new film from the celebrated director of Black Souls [+see also:
interview: Francesco Munzi
film profile] (winner of the 9 David di Donatello awards in 2015, among them Best Film, Best Director, and Best Screenplay) is the result of 100 days of coexistence for the director and his crew with the young members of a therapeutic community on the outskirts of Rome and their families.
Kripton could be the ideal complement to the investigation carried out by Munzi himself with Alice Rohrwacher and Pietro Marcello in Futura [+see also:
film profile], the documentary from 2021 which investigated the aspirations and prospects of today’s youth. This new film is also about young people, but they are a bit different: boys and girls aged between 20 and 30 years old with mental disorders of various kinds, whose thoughts sometimes go “too fast,” making them the victims of sudden internal “earthquakes.” Munzi spent over three months in close contact with these young psychiatric patients voluntarily hospitalised, and chose to tell six stories. Or rather, they are the ones who chose him, since – as the director specifies – “those who came the closest to us and opened up to us became the protagonists: the film was born with them.”
And so, three boys and three girls with mental problems of various kinds, which are never clinically specified (that is not the film’s topic), share in front of the camera their interior worlds, often in the presence of doctors, relatives and experts. There are those who claim to come from another galaxy, those who suffer from serious eating disorders, those who find refuge in the darkness and those who are convinced that “the more alone you are, the less you need others.” Between torment and apathy, from these patients’ words emerge fears and existential questions that can be shared by all, as well as a hypersensitivity to the contradictions of life which in some moments makes you question whether the "crazy people" are actually them or you, pretending you don't see certain things. Munzi’s camera fixes itself on their faces, giving these young people the chance to tell their story and express their individuality; by listening, he normalises these forms of suffering, making them appear less scary and monstrous. And he does so with respect, creating empathy rather than judgement.
The film isn’t lacking in difficult moments: the sudden crises, the difficulty for fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters to cope with the continuous ups and downs that mental illness entails; it seems that things always remain the same, but little by little, they do evolve. This is precisely what Munzi's documentary reminds us: that these special patients must be helped through their individual journeys and with human understanding. In 2022, it is estimated that around 800,000 people in Italy were treated by public mental health services. Yet – and repeating it always hurts a little more – mental health services are among the most affected by cuts to public health services.
(Translated from Italian)
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