With a recognised force in French cinema, director Arnaud Desplechin, teaming up with major thesps Mathieu Amalric and Benicio Del Toro for a serious English-language film, 2013’s Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) (formerly Jimmy Picard) looked like a strong potential contender for the Palme d’Or. However, though the film certainly has its moments, its handsomeness can’t hide an oddly undramatic core in which nothing is really at stake. Jimmy Picard (Del Toro) is the ‘Indian’ of the cumbersome title, a Second World War veteran who suffers from headaches, visual disturbances and bad dreams.
At the Winter Hill Hospital, the assembled doctors and experts can find nothing wrong with Picard, their tentative diagnosis of schizophrenia convincing absolutely no one – including themselves. And so they call in Georges Devereaux (Amalric), a mixture of anthropologist – we’re told that he’s studied Native American tribes intently during his time – and a psychotherapist. Georges rapidly concludes that Jimmy is not in fact crazy, but delves deep within the man’s psyche to see what traumas truly ail him. In the process, the two inevitably become friends. Jimmy’s real name means ‘He Who Everyone Talks About’ and, sure enough, the feature develops into a genuine talkie in the truest sense.
There’s nothing wrong with that of course; Jimmy P.’s dialogue is well-written and it’s gorgeous to look at, with lovingly reproduced post-war period detail. Although Del Toro is obviously not, strictly speaking, ‘right’ for the role – he’s a little too old and, considering the anti-racism sub-theme, not quite Native American – he’s such a compelling screen presence that watching him and Amalric play off each other makes up for the fact that nothing actually seems to be happening for quite long stretches of the film. Sadly, there are no real moral dilemmas on show: the aforementioned racism is confined to marginal characters who are anyway dismissed quite quickly. There’s very little conflict and, despite the misplaced Howard Shore score which keeps stirring up trouble, no sense of jeopardy beyond the violins.
Gina McKee turns up as Georges’ English girlfriend Madeleine and adds even more quality to the cast, but everyone talks too slowly as if trying to enunciate their accents accurately. What surprises arise are staggeringly ‘unsurprising’ surprises, unexpected merely by their banality and drama is finally added artificially with a moment, where again, nothing actually happens. Desplechin’s Jimmy P. is a well-made film with a great cast, an interesting topic and a fine director. It’s just a pity it doesn’t make itself matter.
The 66th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 15-27 May, 2013. For more of our Cannes 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.