A Swiss-French film that asks some bold questions
Based on real-life events, Shock Waves – Diary of My Mind originally featured in a four part fact-based Swiss TV mini-series called Shock Waves that contained a quartet of individual dramas overseen by different directors. Ursula Meier’s concise and thought provoking 70 minute story was then picked out to play on the festival circuit and has been picking up plaudits across Europe ever since.
Meier demonstrates what can be done in a relatively short space of time, posing a number of challenging moral and intellectual questions to the viewer. It tells the story of a psychologically troubled 18-year-old boy who shoots and kills both of his parents in their home. The authorities suggest the literature and indirect encouragement given to him by his French school teacher may have been responsible for pushing him over the edge. Meier’s film begs the age old question of does art imitate life or vice versa?
The film opens in 2008 in the town of Cugy in Switzerland where student Benjamin Feller (Mottet-Klein) is seen walking round his home carrying a handgun. Meier cuts to Benjamin posting a package at the post office, before we next see him dumping his moped on the street and then bursting into a local police station in a complete state of panic still carrying the gun. When the officers on duty manage to calm him down it transpires he has used his father’s pistol to kill his parents and he readily confesses to the crime.
It turns out the package was sent to his French teacher Esther Fontanel (Fanny Ardant) which contains a diary detailing Benjamin’s deteriorating state of mind. He tells the police about the parcel who intercept it and Judge Mathieu (Jean-Philippe Ecoffey) calls in Esther to open and read the contents. Esther initially wants nothing to do with the case, but the Judge seems to believe she is partly responsible for the deaths due to the emotionally honest texts Benjamin was encouraged to read.
We hear Benjamin narrating part of his own story as he recalls the “storms in his brain” and a lonely life with no siblings or friends at school. Deep-seated resentment towards his father grows with every turned page of his diary and we gradually learn the sequence of events that led to the shooting through scattered flashbacks.
The idea that Esther is in anyway responsible is preposterous and it speaks of a society looking for someone to blame when Benjamin’s diminished mental state partially absolves him. Still, Esther carries a certain level of guilt and continues to visit him in prison, even if she calls Benjamin “A stone around my neck,” quoting Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard to explain how she can’t live with, or without, this guilt and sense of responsibility.
Diary of My Mind is led by two fantastic performances from Ardant and Mottet-Klein. Meier’s style is restrained and distanced yet both actor’s show a vulnerability that give detail to both of their stories. Ardent is mesmerising as a teacher questioning her own conscience unable to cut her ties with the situation in the knowledge that her former student has no-one else to look out for him. Mottet-Klein is seen as a rising star in mainland Europe and it’s a reputation he easily lives up to. Despite his character’s heinous crime there is an empathy about him that manages to soften the harder edges of his thoughts and actions.
The last act feels a little rushed and skips over some ideas that could have added further layers to Meier’s already dense narrative. However, there are films twice as long as Diary of My Mind that struggle to string together half as many points of discussion. Meier leaves it up to us to find our own answers to this messy and complex situation that holds no real clear cut solution. As always, the truth lies somewhere in-between polar opposites and the two characters are left to figure out where it lies for both of them.
Tickets for Shock Waves – Diary of My Mind are still available to buy on the BFI website.
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