SYBIL – movie review

Music Box Films
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Justine Triet
Screenwriter: Arthur Harari, David H. Pickering, Justine Triet
Cast: Virginie Efira, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Gaspard Ulliel, Sandra Hüller, Laure Calamy, Niels Schneider
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/11/20
Opens: September 11, 2020


There are reasons that people choose the professions that they do. If you needed glasses at age five, you learn about eyesight and become an optometrist. If your life was saved by a surgeon, you think of going to medical school. If you love films, you want to promote them and you become a publicist. If you hate films, you become a critic. So what makes people want to be psychotherapists? Going by the presumptions shown here, you’ve had problems since childhood. The result? You deal with other people’s issues, and by lying on the couch yourself, you learn about your own. This appears to sum up the principal character in Justine Triet’s “Sibyl,” by a director whose “Sur Place” (2007) tries to analyze the student protests in France a year earlier.

Still of Virginie Efira in Sibyl (2019)

In this case the title character Sibyl (Virginie Efira), a young psychoanalyst, peels off many of her patients in order to find time to devote to writing novels. How to overcome potential writers’ block? Her choice is to use her patients’ narration of problems in the proposed book, and for that she centers her novel on Margot Vasilis (Adèle Exarchopoulos) because of Margot’s intensity. Tearful to a fault as well as conflicted about (it seems) everything, Margot is pregnant by accident, wants an abortion because she needs to work full time in her profession as an actress, schedules the abortion, then cancels, schedules it again, cancels again. Igor (Gaspart Ulliel), the father, is the lead performer in a love story directed by Mika (Sandra Hüller), alias “the bitch,” as some of her stars justly call her.

While Sibyl secretly records Margot’s rants, she brings up memories of Gabriel (Niels Schneider), a previous boyfriend, since isn’t that the kind of thing that shrinks do when they’re bored silly by their patients’ jibber-jabber? You wonder, sometimes, why Sibyl is willing to give up a good part of her income in paring down her patient load to write, when she is advised that in our current age of distraction, writers “have little influence.” With the extra time, she agrees to follow Margot to her romantic film location, since after all, Margot asked her to go and what psychoanalyst would refuse such a reasonable request from a patient?

Mixed in are two occasions of Sybil getting hand jobs from two guys, and one intense scene that finds her on the carpet with a lover getting it on. The film is marred in a few ways. One is that the scenes are constantly changing abruptly when Sibyl’s imagination takes hold. A more straightforward chronological approach might have worked better. On the streamed version that I saw, much of the dialogue was badly dubbed to the extent that words would come out though a character’s lips are no longer moving. Still, Sibyl is an interesting character, one who wants to break free of the daily chatter of her patients—including her youngest client with whom she plays Monopoly as a way to get him to talk more of his hangups—to live more dangerously, including drinking to excess.  In French, Russian and English with English subtitles.

101 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – B-
Technical – B
Overall – C+



Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Milorad Krstic
Screenwriter: Milorad Krstic, Radmila Rockov
Screened at: SONY, NYC, 1/24/19
Opens: February 15, 2019

Ruben Brandt, Collector Poster

Why do some people become optometrists? Chances are they got interested in the field because of their own need for eyeglasses. What about dentists? These are people who may have had trouble losing their baby teeth: maybe they failed to get the tooth fairy to reward them since they had nothing to give her in return. And psychotherapists? That’s easy. They’re crazy. Why else would someone become interested in the field? Ruben Brandt is just one of the crazies serving to shrink heads when his own head needs to be whittled down to a more compact size. How do we know? He has nightmares, but not just any dreams about the boogie man hiding under the bed, but dreams in full, vivid color, with enough violence to satisfy Steven King, John Carpenter and Wes Craven combined. Ruben Brandt, analyzing himself, decides that to end nightmares that plague him nightly, he would have to steal thirteen works of great art. Why so? The subjects of these painting are attacking him without mercy. The best—or worst—of the nightmares occur quickly after the start of the film. The title character is riding a train when suddenly, on the outside, a bizarre passenger who at first appears to be hitching a ride without paying is instead intent on sinking her teeth into the therapist. Who could it be? No other than the not-so-innocent Infanta Margarita, blood pouring from her head, obsessed with gaining entrance into Ruben’s cabin to do nasty things.

Putting aside thoughts of suicide, Ruben gathers four of his patients, people already experienced with larceny and worse, bidding them to steal paintings not just from the Guggenheim but requiring them to travel the world snatching canvases from the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Tate, our own MoMA and others. The entire film thematically lauds Picasso, so we see characters along the way with three eyes, one with two heads like the Roman god Janus, but featuring one woman, Mimi, with a soft, sexy voice who when not driving her Mercedes is a gifted gymnast. How are the paintings stolen? In some cases the foursome simply enter a hall, cut the canvas from the frame, wrap it up, and its Rubens’. In one case Mimi shoots an arrow to pierce the apple on the head of a modern William Tell. When the arrow lands on a canvas, she uses the point to encircle the painting and wraps it up. Simple enough especially if you’re a cartoon character.

Once the police determine that the paintings could not be fenced or sold because they are too well known, they decide that the thief is a collector, one with the combined name of Rubens and Rembrandt (Ruben Brandt; get it?) Rewards are posted. When the amount goes to $100 million for the lucky guy who provides information leading to his arrest, the underworld is brought into the fray. At the same time Kowalski, a private eye, sets out on the mission, appearing ultimately in the final scene as a reflection in the window of the train that Ruben is riding.

Considering the work that went into both the hand-drawn and the computer animated, you might expect the movie to be slow-moving, allowing the artists who designed the film to have a job that would allow them to see their families at night. But no: this is as fast-paced as a James Bond picture, featuring in several scenes a Mercedes Benz going at full speed down French city streets to evade equally fast-moving cars determined to block its path. Similarly the characters talk fast, act quickly, and show purpose, though the narrative itself is difficult to follow. That’s how rapidly the story unfolds.

Co-writer and director Kristic, a 66-year-old visual artist working in Hungary, had a crew of 150 animation pros, knocking out this visual candy for just $4.25 million—with support of the Hungarian National Film Fund. Believing that story, graphics, animation, music and sound are equally important, Kristic senses when the music is not right, a shot should be longer or shorter, the camera angle should be at the right height, close-ups should be extreme. This film took him six and one-half years to complete. He asks audiences to give his work their undivided attention for just ninety-five minutes, and, I might add, given how reasonable the time demands are on the audience, this feature deserves not two but multiple viewings to assimilate the various scenes.

We’ve come a long way from Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy, Mickey, Minnie, Tom, Jerry and Woody, who animated the memories of those of us who have been around for half a century.

95 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – N/R
Technical – A
Overall – B+