Right after World War II Jimmy Picard (Benicio Del Toro), a Blackfoot Indian who fought in France, is admitted to a military hospital in Topeka, Kansas. The institution is specialized in brain diseases and Jimmy Picard suffers from many problems : dizziness, temporary blindness, and hearing loss (a case of post-traumatic stress disorder?). In the absence of physiological causes, he’s given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The hospital decides further inquiry into the case is needed and hires an unusual (the word used in France is “loufoque”) French anthropologist and psychoanalyst who specializes in Native American cultures: Georges Devereux (played by Mathieu Amalric).
“Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian)” is the adaptation of the book by Georges Devereux (1908-1985) published in 1951, through which the famous psychoanalyst and anthropologist retranscribed his analysis and the integrality of his long Freudian-based therapy sessions with Jimmy Picard.
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This new feature film by French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin appears as perhaps his most accessible, or rather less hermetic, film. The numerous exchanges between Picard and Devereux are played with great relish by the two eminent actors who take obvious pleasure in the art of the repartee. It’s rather like watching a two hour-long game of insanely-civil ping-pong.
With elegance and a simple yet straightforward approach to describing the meetings and ensuing friendship between two men who evidently have nothing in common Arnaud Desplechin delivers his most endearing film, that which becomes even truer when Georges Devereux explores the memories and dreams of Jimmy P. through experience as they work together with ever-increasing complicity, a mutual respect and a sense of adventure. And before long, the two investigators also discover much about their own self. A jubilatory film-going experience.
Desplechin, who previously directed “Esther Kahn” (2000; starring Summer Phoenix) seizes an opportunity to pay tribute to the directors (Sergio Leone comes to mind) whose films have tugged at his imagination, those that take place in the great American open space (in this case somewhere between Montana and Michigan). The success of “Jimmy P.” is also owed to the talents of D.P. Stéphane Fontaine and a score written by Howard Shore.