Oct 11, 2013

24FPS @ LFF 2013 Wounded

Dir: Fernando Franco
Films about mental illness tend to come in two distinct flavours.  There is the bleak as fuck version, most often complete with tragic and/or bloody ending or the wackier version (see Silver Linings Playbook, large sections of which could be re-titled 'Mental Illness Ain't It Kooky?')  Wounded does not fall into either of these categories.  This is where I have to inform you that, while I've no desire to start writing like Harry Knowles, this review is going to have to get much more personal than I would usually allow, because that's the only way to tell you how Wounded affected me.

The film is essentially a character study of Ana Ortega (Marian Alvarez), an ambulance driver in her late twenties who – though apparently undiagnosed – is clearly suffering with severe depression and anxiety attacks, causing her to self harm, shut herself away and sometimes lash out at people.  Over about six months, Wounded follows Ana's attempts to lead a relatively normal life, without people knowing that she's unwell.

This is where it has to get personal.  For most of my twenties, and still to a thankfully lesser degree, I suffered with severe anxiety and depression.  I was never as bad as Ana, I never self-harmed but I think it was movies, as much as anything, that helped get me through.  Coming from this standpoint I can say that Marian Alvarez' performance as Ana comes as close as anything I've ever seen to showing what my experience of depression was.  

I knew the film was going to engage me personally right from the start, when Ana has a panic attack at work, but hides it from her co-worker Jaime.  This is something I did regularly, and it took me viscerally back to those moments.  Here and in the rest of the film Alvarez is sensational.  She does a great deal with very little.  Small moments; a gesture here, a look there, tell a great deal about what is going through her head and how she's trying to keep it from coming to the surface.  When it does boil over it is powerful, but always real and not overplayed.  Her frustration after lying to end an online chat with a friend, for example, also struck a deeply personal chord.  I've done that, and reacted like that.  Personal experience or not, I suspect most will still think Alvarez does a sterling job here, establishing herself as a name to watch.

Director Fernando Franco clearly has a firm hand on the performances, as he gets similarly outstanding, naturalistic, work from the actors around Alvarez.  Rosana Pastor puts in an especially good performance as Ana's mother, who is all unspoken concern.  She clearly loves and worries about her daughter, but it's almost as if she asks about the self-harm that will make it real for her.

The key to the film is that, as difficult as she can be, you always root for Ana and want her to be okay.  Franco and Alvarez achieve this by breaking out of the bleakness to show Ana's efforts to maintain a normal life.  You can sometimes see behind the depression, whether it be through the way she works with a favourite patient who has dementia or her playful response to a suitor at a work party.  Sometimes we also see how depression twists those moments, leading her to passionless sex or occasional drug abuse, and those moments are wrenching.

There is little narrative shape here and that's a good thing, it means that Wounded steers away from offering easy answers for why Ana is depressed (there are hints that it may have something to do with her Father, but nothing concrete) or for how she can finally beat it.  That's not to say that this isn't a hopeful film, I think it ultimately is, but it's a film about a process that looks at only a small part of that process.  

With it's stark imagery, limited narrative, downbeat story and unresolved ending some will find Wounded a difficult experience.  I certainly did, but the very difficulty of watching it, the regularity with which it pricked at painful memories, was proof to me of how strong and how affecting both the film and Marian Alvarez' performance (which is worth the price of admission by itself) really are.  I'm sure my grade is slightly coloured by the level on which I personally engaged with this film, but I don't think I can honestly give it a lower score.

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