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Critique : Witches


- Dans cet essai intime, proche des mémoires, à portée méta-cinématographique, Elizabeth Sankey dé-stigmatise la dépression post-partum et les soucis de santé mentale des mères

Critique : Witches

Cet article est disponible en anglais.

The British writer, director, and editor Elizabeth Sankey returns with a meta-cinematic personal essay, Witches, which premiered at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival and received the Special Jury Mention (read the news). In her previous film, her feature debut Romantic Comedy, Sankey created a so-called desktop documentary, juxtaposing clips from classic rom-com films to highlight the tropes and stereotypes about love and partnership, often constructed from a male perspective. Following her debut, she directed a TV documentary for Channel 4 titled Boobs, which addressed female body image and the stereotypes surrounding it. Witches continues her exploration of women's positions in contemporary society, employing a method similar to the one she used in Romantic Comedy. Sankey puts together clips from various movies about witches, spanning from classics and cult films to pop culture hits. The new topic she tackles, after examining love, partnership, and body image, is motherhood.

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More specifically, Witches delves into postpartum mental health, with Sankey herself recounting her harrowing experience with postpartum depression and anxiety, including suicidal thoughts, on camera. She then proceeds to weave an array of film clips to draw parallels between the historical witch trials and their depictions, and the societal pressures on women, particularly new mothers. A significant portion of the film focuses on how society has historically vilified women who deviate from normative expectations, and Sankey attributes it to the stigmatisation of women suffering from mental health issues stemming from motherhood.

Witches is Sankey's most personal work, bordering on a memoir, as she details her thoughts about not only harming herself but also her newborn, and recounts her hospitalisation in a psychiatric ward. Similar to her previous works, she dispels the idealised standards of motherhood, femininity, and traditional gender roles through personal testimonies of women who have suffered to varying degrees. For example, author Catherine Cho shares her experience with postpartum psychosis, OCD, and terrifying hallucinations. While the documentary predominantly features women, the director includes an exception with David Emson, who recounts the family tragedy when his wife, suffering from postpartum psychosis, killed their daughter and then herself. Sankey's narration and on-screen presence provide a personal touch, while the testimonies of mostly other women create a collective voice that addresses the broader issue at hand.

While the topic is certainly critical and highly relevant, requiring destigmatisation which Sankey and the women stepping in front of the camera provide, the unilateral connection of historical witch narratives and their representation in cinema solely to new mothers' "madness" and "baby blues" appears simplifying and tendentious. Historically, women have not been persecuted as witches for postpartum depression; the issue is socially much broader. In this sense, the use of witch imagery in this sole direction seems superfluous. The juxtaposition of rom-com tropes effectively highlighted the absurdity of norms constructed through a masculine lens in Romantic Comedy. However, in Witches, the large variety of clips from films such as Häxan, Rosemary's Baby, The Witches of Eastwick, and The Conjuring, despite their surreal and disorienting nature apt for depicting postpartum psychosis, feels misplaced and misguided.

Witches was produced by Ardimages UK with Montgomery Avenue Productions and MUBI, in association with Garden Studios. MUBI plans to release Witches worldwide next year. 

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