“They say I’m slow, but I have my own pace”, this is how a mental health inpatient in a mental health institution describes his very own predicament. The Madness among Us takes viewers on a trip of psychiatric hospital in the city of Salvador, in Northeastern Brazil, as well as into the lives and the challenges that patients have to face when they are outside the institution. The film opens with a barrier being lifted in what seems to be a car park at the entrance of the institution. This is a reminder that we are about that enter another world, but that the boundaries can be easily removed.
Central paradoxes of humanity are examined with a soft and tender streak: a patient dabbles between the desire for peace and uncontrollable violent outburts, while another one ponders about the urgency of work and the lunacy of idleness. These people suffer from mild to more serious mental health conditions, most of them take medication such as fluoxetine in order to control their moods swings.
Many of the patients understand the social norms and boundaries that keep them under medical control in a controlled environment, and this awareness can cause enormous frustration. A bipolar female claims that she’s not a threat to public safety, and therefore she should not be locked up. Another woman is back home and struggling to keep her sanity: she is trying to find the triggers for her fits, so she can avoid in the future. She confesses that she has burnt her own clothes in the past.
The film is packed with hopefulness. The patients often sing songs with a positive message (they are especially keen on the Brazilian composer and singer Caetano Veloso), and one says that “they are all crazy… for each other”. There is redemption through work and arts: some enjoy doing crochet, some enjoy painting, others prefer gardening. They all seem to find fulfilment and a purpose in life through these activities. The creative work seems very liberating, perhaps because it allows them to express emotions which they are not able to vocalise.
There are also humurous and disturbing moments, such as bipolar woman wearing a mask while delivering a harangue about her highs and lows in mock-Spanish. At one point, another lady claims “Jesus will come back in flesh and kill all mankind, because we are not worth it”.
The director Fernanda Fontes Vareille, a former student at Goldsmith’s College in London, created a touching and highly feminine movie. Not only the director’s gaze is gentle and intuitive, but also most of the inpatients are women. However, the film is packed with too many characters in its relatively short 76 minutes, and so the personal stories are somewhat loose. Sometimes it’s a little difficult to get under the skin of the patients, or to string the pieces of the film together. Still a fitting tribute to patients with mental health disorders, and a valuable commentary on everyone else’s relative sanity.
The Madness among Us has been shown in film festivals in various countries, including the US, Canada, Portugal, France and its home market Brazil. DMovies will keep an eye for screenings in the UK and elsewhere for your. You can click here for more information about the here.
You can watch the film trailer right here: