The Normandie theater in Santiago is currently presenting a curiosity; Roberto Faenza’s “Prendimi l’anima”, derived from a book by Aldo Carotuneto, with the assistance of no less than six screenwriters. The protagonist is Sabina Spielrein, the woman who evolved from Carl Jung’s patient to his paramour, and eventually, professional psychologist in her own right. What is curious is that the film, now a decade old, and receiving little distribution, or even attention in its time (despite some awards won), now looks much more interesting in light of the fact that the same subject was revisited last year in a much higher profile production, “A Dangerous Method”, directed by David Cronenberg from a screenplay by Christopher Hampton.
The fact that Cronenberg and Hampton, as well as actors Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender, and Viggo Mortensen are universally known names, and that the newer film was made with much larger budget might provoke some underdog sympathy for the earlier film, to the point of claiming it the superior, or at least more “authentic” version. Indeed, it would be a lot more fun for this reviewer if I could make such an assertion, but I can’t.
The version presented in Chile, filmed in English with Spanish subtitles, has a major disadvantage with its dialogue, especially in comparison to that of Hampton’s, one of England’s most-honored playwrights. By contrast, the dialogue in Faenza’s version not only lacks Hampton’s sharpness and wit, but occasionally veers towards campy overstatement: “Don’t punish me with your love!” exclaims Carl Jung during one heated exchange with Spielrein.
The biggest problem, however, both structurally and aesthetically with “Prendimi l’anima” (“Lend me your soul”) is the framing of the Sabina Speilrein-Carl Jung narrative with a fictional and contemporary involving two graduate students in Moscow, one a young Frenchwoman, and the other a Scots played by none other than Craig Ferguson before he found a permanent niche as late-night talk show host on American television, which retroactively, and unfortunately, adds a degree of facetiousness to his scenes, at least for those familiar with his stand-up work – you wonder at what point is he going to wink at the camera.
Carolyn Ducey, as the French graduate student, benefits in this context by her relative anonymity, and she reads her lines competently. However, not only does the “romance” between her character and Ferguson’s lack any spark of interest, the whole “framing” device comes off as a tedious gimmick, something that detracts from the much more compelling (and more visually arresting) early 20th century chronicle of two extraordinary individuals both making history. And for Spielrein, also falling victim to it greatest monster in the form of Stalin, and later, Hitler.
Still, when Faenza and company can settle into what should be the point of the project, Iain Glen and Emilia Fox more than meet the challenge with their passionate yet intelligent performances. Speilrein came into Jung’s life as a virtual feminist poltergeist; seriously delusional at first, but with a mastery of the education and cultivation her well-heeled Russian-Jewish family could provide her, and clearly demonstrating incisive observational skills that would make her the world’s first woman psychologist. Being that both she and Jung were brilliant and needy, a tortured relationship, one that would challenge Jung’s conscience, was virtually inevitable.
The film, alas, does not so much as explore this story as merely present it, sometimes with Ferguson and Ducey mechanically explaining it, and sometimes through awkward dialogue that strains to combine narrative exposition with personal expression. The filmmakers knew they had a great story to tell, but merely telling it is not enough, yet Glen and Fox help elevate the movie to a level of artistry sufficient enough to recommend it despite its shortcomings.