Bleak. If I were to do a one word review of this film, it would be that: bleak. A bleak film that throws a lot of cinematic storytelling convention out of the window in order to give an experience that is critiqued within the film itself a third of the way through – that when you have a time as bleak as those you are watching, why would you want to watch it on the screen.
Now whilst I am not meaning to draw a comparison between the living and mental conditions of the character of The Asthenic Syndrome with my own, at the end of 2020 whilst sat in semi-lockdown having had a year that brought me to the mental edge – this was the wrong film for me. Like I am not opposed to a film that can make you cry, or shock you or completely screw with your adrenaline. I love that films are able to make me feel things to the extreme, but this is just beyond.
Here’s the thing though – I can see what Muratova was getting at. If she had released the film in two sections, rather than having the first be a film within a film, I would probably be viewing them very differently. In the first part, where we see a doctor have a breakdown after the death of her husband is bleak, sure, but ultimately moving. This initial section is one that I thought was particularly powerful and is then dragged down by the remaining 100 minutes.
The second half, featuring a narcoleptic teacher as a main, is far more experimental but also just failed to engage me. I don’t think it helps that you have a number of scenes of animal cruelty and person-on-person cruelty – for example an extended scene where a person with mental difficulties is tormented for an awfully long time by two girls.
I ended up needing some good ASMR time (not Godard) in order to properly get some thoughts together as, honestly, I just wanted to leave it at ‘bleak’. However, as much as this didn’t agree with me, this is an unusual film that brings the awful conditions to the screen that many were living in at the time and how much worse it is if you have any kind of condition, whether it be depression or narcolepsy, that makes you something other than ‘normal’.