Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Projected Shadows: Psychoanalytic Reflections on the Representation of Loss in European Cinema

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Projected Shadows: Psychoanalytic Reflections on the Representation of Loss in European Cinema

Article excerpt

Projected Shadows: Psychoanalytic Reflections on the Representation of Loss in European Cinema edited by Andrea Sabbadini New Library of Psychoanalysis Routledge, London and New York, 2007; 190 pp; £21.99

In this highly enjoyable collection of essays on film, Andrea Sabbadini has brought together a diverse group of analysts and film scholars from Europe, the US, and Israel. Many of the essays come from the third European Psychoanalytic Film Festival, an event that Sabbadini chairs. The films discussed are linked by themes of loss, but the essays move in many other interesting directions as well, to touch on issues of perversion, narcissism, and trauma, all in the context of film theory. Many of the writers point out the fruitfulness of the exchange between psychoanalysis and film criticism, and we may ask why psychoanalysis has enjoyed less success in its applications to other art forms? Sabbadini provides a useful frame for such considerations in his Introduction where he points out the special place the concept of time holds for both film and psychoanalysis, and ways in which this is conveyed through issues of loss. If psychoanalysis is a medium for the unfolding of a relationship over time as the past is re-experienced and losses mourned, then film is a medium where an encapsulated experience can be had, lost, and revisited again and again.

The films discussed range from the well-known and widely distributed, such as Almódovar's Talk to Her, to the little known, such as Mother Dao, the Turtle-like. Most readers will be unfamiliar with some of them, but all the films seem so utterly fascinating that one cannot help but look forward to the opportunity to view them. It is not essential that the films be seen in advance since each essay stands well on its own. One of the unintentional benefits of this book is as an introduction to the work of some of the more exciting, lesser known (at least to an American audience) filmmakers from Europe. The collection contains 15 essays that discuss over 20 films. I will focus on just a few, but the quality of writing is high throughout as is the sophistication in both film and psychoanalytic theory. My only quibbles are that, averaging about 10 pages apiece, many of the essays feel too short; and, although a separate index for the films cited is included, it would have been helpful to include information on how to obtain these films for viewing.

One of the great discoveries for me was reading the piece by Helen Taylor Robinson on the remarkable work of Jan Svankmajer, a filmmaker from the Czech Republic. Svankmajer calls himself a "militant surrealist" (p. 102), and is individually responsible for most of the elements that go into the creation of his short animated films (he has also made features, best known of which is Little Otik). These wordless dramas use puppets to play out scenarios laden with bizarre imagery of remarkable inventiveness. Taylor Robinson informs us that Svankmajer "openly adheres to the writings of Freud ... as the sources, among others, for his and all art" (p. 102). Watching these shorts we recognize the aptness of Taylor Robinson's remark that "nothing in these films is a matter of chance" (p. 103). Svankmajer channels the viewer directly into his intensely personal vision by taking control not only of the story, the design, and the direction, but of the characters themselves since he does not use actors; he uses animated figures of his own creation. This strategy of Svankmajer's brings us immediately into a psychoanalytic domain of psychic determinism where all details, no matter how peripheral to the focal narrative, become invested with significance. It is as if we are able to watch his fantasy from the inside. His tender, nostalgic, and, on the surface, child-like films play out universal conflicts that Taylor Robinson interprets as between psychic agencies and drives, fantasy and reality. In the end we are humbled in relation to the instinctual world, but with a measure of irony and humor. …

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