Directed by Orlando von Einsiedel.
When his brother, newly diagnosed as schizophrenic and suffering from intense depression, took his own life at 22, Orlando and his other two siblings buried the trauma, rarely talking about it. Over a decade later, the remaining family set out on a hiking tour, visiting landscapes Evelyn liked to walk, to reflect on his life and death.
Oscar-winning documentarian Orlando von Einsiedel (Virunga, The White Helmets) turns the camera towards himself for this uncomfortably intimate examination of a family emotionally rent by an unspoken horror which occurred 13 years prior.
Orlando’s younger brother Evelyn committed suicide in 2005 after losing a battle against mental illness, and the film focuses primarily on the director covering his family’s hiking tour across the U.K. in Evelyn’s memory. The hope, clearly, is that the shared experience might trigger a torrent of repressed feelings, while also crowbarring open debate on why suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 worldwide.
Einsiedel’s documentary is framed by the arrival of Evelyn’s suicide note, which Orlando has never read before, and the contents of which are finally revealed in the film’s final scene. The focus isn’t so much on the why of Evelyn’s self-destruction, though, but the family’s efforts to work through their mental block on the event and its fallout, through a series of achingly raw dialogues as they amble through the British countryside.
While under most any other circumstances a documentary about a quaint, plummy middle-class family strolling around the U.K. having picnics might seem a tad self-indulgent, the loaded, current subject matter and gradual opening-up of the various family members makes this a gently compulsive sit.
The pace dawdles a little at times, but Einsiedel’s dogged commitment to documenting their hike – even bringing a full camera crew along for the ride – allows him to capture some tender human moments, especially with fellow hikers, many of whom have their own tragic backstories.
Though the crew is rarely spotted throughout the film, their presence is always in the back of the mind, and provokes the feeling we’re watching something almost unbearably personal that most families wouldn’t dare wish to broadcast to the world. That this entire family can bare themselves so raw with cameras in such close proximity is almost distracting in its strangeness.
While director-subject Orlando certainly could’ve settled for a low-rent conception in the stead of creating a less intrusive filmmaking presence for his family, this is a surprisingly lavish production at times, with gorgeous drone shots of the British countryside evoking a borderline-cinematic feel, while aided by an ethereal musical score. Thanks to pin-sharp editing which makes judicious use of intimate home video footage, the film serves up just enough visual diversity amid the central stroll.
This is clearly a far more personal and lower-stakes offering than Einsiedel’s previous films, but it makes an undeniably potent statement about our collective responsibility as humans to break down the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A telling scene where a family friend says he doesn’t talk to people about his dad, who died to suicide, for fear of making them uncomfortable really hits the nail on the head.
If there’s any closing message, it’s a simple yet effective and life-affirming one; the scars that suicide leaves behind never fully heal, but expressing oneself is crucial in helping normalise discussion of a most pervasive killer of men. This heartbreaking, introspective doc makes a passionate plea for a more open dialogue surrounding mental illness.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.