Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Cannes Review of Jimmy P

Arnaud Desplechin stumbles with his first film in the English language

Sat, May 18, 2013, 16:05




Directed by Arnaud Desplechin

Starring Benicio del Toro, Mathieu Amalric, Elya Baskin, Gina McKee

In competition, 120 min

Ah, that’s more like it. After a stream of pretty decent films — and one proper stormer in Like Father, Like Son — the Cannes competition finally delivers what we’ve been waiting for: a genuine dud. Even those who believe that Arnaud Desplechin has been somewhat overpraised for bourgeois soap operas such as Kings and Queen and A Christmas Tale will be surprised by exactly the sort of bad film he has decided to make here. The informatively titled Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) is as boring as it is pointless and as ludicrous as it is drab.

The film is based on the the true story of a native American who, in the aftermath of the second World War, underwent analysis in Kansas to disentangle traumatic stress disorder. On the evidence of this film, the psychiatrist was an overdressed loon, prone to erratic hand gestures and at home to a French accent that would give Pepe le Pew pause to snigger. To this date we have thought  Mathieu Amalric incapable of giving a bad performance. But Desplechin proves his impressive way with performers by extracting an total stinker from the gifted Frenchman. If the character is supposed to be funny, he is surely not supposed to be funny in quite this fashion.

French viewers can, at least, relax in the knowledge that one of their own is bouncing national stereotypes into the red. Benicio de Toro may have “some Indigenous American ancestry”, but he still looks and sounds like a Puerto Rican. It’s not quite like the old days when Yul Brynner or Anthony Quinn were asked to play any required nationality. It would, however, have been nice to cast a Native American actor in a Native American role.

This is not to suggest that any such minor tweaks would save the film. Amalric raves. Del Toro mumbles. Gena McKee turns up to stand around awkwardly in a tweed jacket. At the end of it all, we get no closer to understanding why these interactions should be of any interest to a modern audience. We learn nothing new about Native American culture. We learn nothing new about psychotherapy. We do learn that Desplechin would be best advised to never direct in English again, but that  lesson hardly justifies two hours of unremitting tedium.

The film does seem to have some supporters. But this surely cannot be a serious contender for prizes.