The Phobophobic Housewife

Margit Carstensen tries to relax by listening to music in Fear of Fear (1975) but it doesn't stop her increasing bouts of anxiety and depression.

Margit Carstensen tries to relax by listening to music in Fear of Fear (1975) but it doesn’t stop her increasing bouts of anxiety and depression.

Films about housewives losing their identity in a marriage or slowly going bonkers from the daily rituals of domesticity are plentiful enough to form their own distinctive subgenre. Among the most intriguing of these films, all of which reflect the specific time and cultural moment in which they were made, are Frank Perry’s Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970), John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Chantal Akerman’s landmark 1975 feature, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quia du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, Dusan Makavejev’s Montenegro (1981), and the curious Canadian indie Dancing in the Dark (1986), directed by Leon Marr. But the one I’d like to highlight and which I had the pleasure of revisiting recently on DVD is Fear of Fear (German title: Angst vor der Angst, 1975), directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Continue reading

Fade to White

Charles Denner retreats from the world in Life Upside Down (1964), directed by Alain Jessua

Charles Denner retreats from the world in Life Upside Down (1964), directed by Alain Jessua

Films that explore mental illness, especially Hollywood productions such as The Snake Pit, The Three Faces of Eve and A Brilliant Mind, usually tend to be heavy on the histrionics providing highly dramatic showcases and Oscar award opportunities for actors. But a descent into madness isn’t always signaled by wildly disruptive or overwrought behavior from the afflicted. Sometimes the illness can creep up slowly by degrees and pass for something more fleeting and subtle that avoids detection during the early stages. Life Upside Down (La vie à l’envers), directed by Alain Jessua, is a remarkable example of this, presenting a man who goes quietly mad while interpreting his erratic behavior as a profound new self-awareness.     Continue reading