Empathy

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Anne Siegel’s documentary/ fiction hybrid examines the unique quality of the psychoanalytical situation, in which people purchase emotional intimacy and share their most private feelings with a hopefully sympathetic stranger who ideally is both remote and consoling. The filmmaker’s approach is to mix interviews of three practicing psychotherapists with a fictionalized case study, further muddling the situation by adding to the mix the screen tests of various actresses up for the role of the unhappy patient.

The most compelling parts of the film (shot on video) are the interviews with the three therapists, whose responses go some distance toward demystifying their priestly professions. The three shrinks involved are all 60-ish males and the patients discussed are all women. One of the three is especially candid about the voyeuristic aspects of his profession, and the sexual temptations that can arise in a charged atmosphere of full disclosure.

The film suggests that psychoanalysis is the pursuit of the well-heeled, which is mostly true now that health insurance is more likely to pay for psychotropic drugs than quality time with a receptive ear.

When the movie pauses for a digression on “Modernity and Psychoanalysis” the focus is not on music, literature, movies and changing social roles, but rather oddly on architecture.

The least interesting part of the film is the fictional portion about a woman heading toward a breakthrough. This isn’t particularly involving, because we’ve been made keenly aware that this is an actress. The fictionalized case history is meant to demonstrate various ideas already expressed.

Even if the movie is uneven, it gets points for originality and should be of interest to anyone who’s experienced this inexact science.

Showing at the Detroit film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Monday, Oct. 11, at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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