An Idiosyncratic Healer from Abroad Soothes a Troubled Indian ; 'Jimmy P.' Tells the Story of Pioneering Days of Psychoanalysis in U.S

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Arnaud Desplechin's new film, "Jimmy P., Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian" tells the story of the pioneering days of psychoanalysis.

Arnaud Desplechin, whose first appearance at the Cannes festival was in 1991, is competing this year with a movie that has deep French and American roots. Shot in English, "Jimmy P., Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian" is based on a book by Georges Devereux, an early French psychotherapist, about an American Indian veteran of World War II.

"Isn't it a strange story?" said Mr. Desplechin. "An encounter between two men who are worlds apart. When they meet at the clinic, each has traveled across the country, Jimmy from Montana -- three days by train -- and Devereux from New York. They are both in exile."

The film is about the pioneering days of psychoanalysis. Benicio Del Toro plays Jimmy, a Blackfoot Indian who has returned from war with debilitating symptoms; brain injury is suspected, then schizophrenia.

Mathieu Amalric, who has appeared in most of Mr. Desplechin's films, sometimes as his alter ego, plays the healer from abroad, a doctor who has plenty of idiosyncrasies.

"In a way, it's the case of the worst analyst and the worst patient meeting," Mr. Desplechin said. "Since Devereux was a beginner he wasn't accepted or trusted at first at the clinic. He was given one patient. And since he was bored, he wrote everything down. Even Freud made a digest of his cases. So we have the whole story."

When Jimmy arrives, he is an enigma to the doctors. They examine him, take X-rays, make a few diagnostic jabs, but only Devereux, who is fascinated by Indians and their culture, can get inside his head.

In his first scenes as the doctor from abroad, Mr. Amalric doesn't stint on special effects -- with plenty of tics -- but under Mr. Desplechin's guidance he grows into a rich figure.

"First off, Mathieu said, 'Devereux looks like a quack; he's too bizarre,"' Mr. Desplechin said. "But then, we see how fast he gets to the right place; there are lots of scenes in which he listens, and a psychoanalyst's listening is different from the way we listen: Something strong comes from that."

As for the doctor's evolution, it is reflected in the film: He gets rid of his tics, he enjoys a visit from a girlfriend, played by Gina McKee, and when she leaves to go back to Europe he gets down to work.

Another dimension seems to open up in the film, moving from a focus on the physical to plumbing the deepest recesses of the characters' minds. Howard Shore's music, a throbbing score, which has echoes of a 1940s melodrama, floats through the film.

The director says that once he wrote the script, with Julie Peyr and Kent Jones, he could picture only Mr. Amalric in the part of Devereux. Casting Jimmy was more difficult.

"I saw lots of films, I really did research," he said, "but I didn't find the actor with the charisma I needed. I saw many who played victims, such as Adam Beach, who was in Clint Eastwood's 'Flags of Our Fathers,' but it wasn't my story; it was the story of a victim." Then he recalled seeing Mr. …