Woody Allen has a personality disorder

Psychotherapy as a double game

In the French film “Sibyl”, a woman secretly uses her patient's story as novel material - until things get really tricky. Recommendable.

Sibylle is the name of the ancient Greek prophetess who predicted the future for people, even if they hadn't asked about it at all. It made it even more difficult for them because it gave their interpretations in the form of a riddle. It is no coincidence that the main character in the film “Sibyl” bears a modern version of this name, as she takes the future of others and then her own into her hand. But it alludes even more to the 1976 film “Sibyl”, which is about a psychotherapist and a patient with multiple personality disorders.

In a certain way, the new Sibyl also begins to live in different personalities, even if this time she is not the patient but the therapist. When she finally wants to realize her dream of writing novels, she slips into a dangerous game: she mixes the roles of therapist and author by using the story of a patient, the desperate young Margot, as novel material. She secretly records the sessions, thus nourishing her long-awaited life project.

But there is a reason why Sibyl of all people makes Margot's problems the subject of her book, as the viewer gradually realizes: They remind Sibyl of her own past. Margot became pregnant unintentionally and is desperate to decide whether or not to have an abortion. And Sibyl is thrown back into the memory of a passionate relationship that she had years ago. No wonder that she can tell less and less between her and Margot's story.

Sibyl is a woman who implodes inside, behind whose stable facade the foundations have always threatened to collapse. She comes from a family of alcoholics and has fought herself free from addiction. In the film, the temptations of alcohol serve as a mirror of Sibyl's struggle for stability and her loss of control.

She is played by the Belgian Virginie Efira, who worked as a TV presenter before she became known as a TV and then cinema actress. She is now also known abroad from French film comedies. In “Sybil” she grows beyond her typical role format. Passion is not Efira's business, her seemingly mysterious composure can easily become boring. Here she doesn't exactly turn into a volcano - one of these is symbolically located on the island to which the film eventually leads - but she manages to make the complicated personality and situation of her heroine believable.

Prototype: a film by Woody Allen

The film needs that too, because the script cannot get enough of the complicated. The 41-year-old director, Justine Triet, whose previous film “Victoria” received five “César” nominations about an overwhelmed single lawyer, took part in it. Triet cites Woody Allen's “Another Woman” as the main inspiration for the film structure: In it, a woman listens to the sessions of the neighboring psychiatrist with a young woman while working on a new book - and is thereby thrown back on her own problems.

The question of the relationship between reality and fiction arises not only through Sibyl's novel project. Margot is a film actress. The man who made her pregnant is the partner in ongoing filming. And his wife - the film director. He absolutely wants to keep the child, Margot doesn't trust him, sees her role and thus her fragile career bursting with the child.

The director hops into the water

Only the therapist can help. She is - here it gets bizarre - ordered to the filming on a remote island in order to save not only the patient, but also the film project. You can tell that realism is only important to the director in psychological terms, otherwise she has no problem with improbabilities. And so the viewer is made abundantly clear that Sibyl has long since become a participant and director in the story of her patient: She has to replace Margot's film partner in a scene and take over the direction on a boat because the director throws away her nerves and hops into the water . She then does that with great success.

This also corresponds to the message of the film and the lesson that Sibyl draws in the end: that reality is the fiction that we create. Sibyl's initially fateful double play has ultimately turned out to be beneficial for Margot and herself. Gabriel, the father of her first child, “died for me,” she says in the final scene, sitting at the table. You see a woman who has regained control of her life after the crash, and not just in appearance this time. She keeps them at a distance, she says of her husband and her two children: "I see them as characters in fiction."

There is something about solipsism about it. The closest people as a mere inventory of inner reality that can be changed at any time? In the end, that's a bit too simple - too simple for the film itself.

("Die Presse", print edition, 07/28/2020)