Film-making is a truly international affair, which tends to spring to the front of the agenda here at Cannes – though there are inevitably some fairly high profile films playing in competition and throughout the rest of the selection, there are invariably also offerings from across the globe – some of which may never get large distribution deals in major territories. The festival then offers the opportunity to celebrate those other markets, as well as embracing some projects that ignore the traditional boundaries of geographical film-making, such as Jimmy P, a US production, with a French director, starring leads from Puerto Rico, France and England.
Based on the major work of French psychoanalyst Georges Devereaux (played in the film by Mathieu Amalric,) the film charts the psychoanalytical treatment of Blackfoot Indian James Picard (the titular JimmyP,) a war veteran with a brain injury, who appears to be in good physical health, but who is plagued by crippling pain and episodes that suggest underlying psychic trauma. Largely a two-man film, the narrative plots a course from diagnosis to treatment, through sessions designed to uncover the triggers to Picard’s condition, taking in personal discovery and revelation, as well as wider anthropological concerns regarding native American culture.
It is, at its heart a tale of redemption, played through a culture-clash dynamic as the French analyst and his patient build a relationship and work through his issues, and it’s hard to resist the similarities with The King’s Speech, which almost certainly lends elements to the central relationship, whether consciously or through simple circumstantial proximity. Like The King’s Speech, there is some pleasure to be had in the way the central pair play off one another and how the patient develops as we learn more about him and his condition.
That patient – played by Benicio Del Toro of course – is a rather difficult hero. He is inherently guarded, and the way Del Toro plays the character, clearly taking in issues of nationality in his speech patterns and disposition, makes him difficult to engage with, and thus the sympathetic element that later becomes so important is a slow-burner. Ultimately, that is a smart choice, but it’s also a brave one for how it packages the character, as it challenges the audience to persevere with the character despite the traditional sympathetic link to this sort of figure.
Del Toro’s performance is far more multi-layered than it first appears, and it is on his development from deeply wounded patient to empowered individual by the end that really powers the narrative. Alongside him, Amalric is excellent as the anthropologist/analyst, and his personal story – outlining his relationship with English “friend” Madelaine – is an engaging sidebar element to Jimmy P’s own journey, which adds an entirely different aspect to the film, just as the exploration of Lionel’s personal life did in The King’s Speech.
The film is also shot beautifully – particularly the sequences that portray Jimmy P’s dreams as he describes them during sessions, and though the pace is a little slow, it is necessary (even if it wasn’t the greatest choice for the early morning slot here.)
Accusations of Oscar-baiting will no doubt accompany this film, given the subject matter, but they might not be too far off point. But Jimmy P is never manipulative, and it definitely doesn’t feel like it has been packaged for the purpose (hence the unpoeticness of the title.)
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