Roberto Faenza • Director
by Chiara Nano
13/01/2003 - Roberto Faenza broke a three-year absence from our screens with a new film entitled Prendimi l’anima (Take My Soul), about a Russian Jewish intellectual called Sabine Spielrein. Aged just 19 when she was admitted to the Burgholzli Hospital in Zurich and placed under the care of a young psychiatrist called Carl Gustav Jung. In the throes of a violent depression, Spielrein made medical history by becoming the first patient to be treated by the psychoanalytical methods set down by Sigmund Freud. Spielrein was much more than Jung’s therapeutic success story; she was also his lover and found herself at the centre of a dramatic tale of love and psychoanalysis that only came to light in 1977 when her diary and the protagonists’ documents were unearthed. Italian film director Roberto Faenza adapted this singular story into a film after several years of research.
Produced by Elda Ferri for Jean Vigò Italia, together with French partners Les Films du Centaure and the UK’s Cowboy Film, Prendimi l’anima stars Iain Glen, Emilia Fox, Craig Ferguson, Caroline Ducey and Jane Alexander. Needless to say, this film has already generated a wealth of controversy because of the narrative style adopted by Faenza.
Tell us about your research into this film?
"It was very long and tiring. We went a lot to Moscow to track down more details about Spielrein’s life. I was more interested in focusing on the woman’s life after her incarceration in “Burghölzli” (Editor’s Note: the psychiatric hospital in Zurich where Jung and Freud worked) and her return to Russia, her homeland. Then I had to interrupt the research for seven years. I was side tracked by some leads, for example the philosopher and teacher, Bruno Bettelheim, wrote that Sabina Spielrein worked in a psychiatric clinic in Moscow, but it wasn’t true. In 1994, when I went to Moscow for the film Jonah Who Lived in the Whale, I had the chance to meet a historian who gave me new leads for my research. This is how I discovered that Sabina founded an internationally recognised nursery in 1923 together with Vera Schmidt, which the children themselves called “the White Nursery”. There, they did experiments to discover what the youngsters thought freedom meant. The school was closed three years later by the Stalinist regime and it was accused of practising sexual perversions on the children. But it wasn’t true. In fact Stalin actually enrolled his own son, Vassili, into the “White Nursery”, under a false name. "
Then you met Vera Schmidt’s son...
"Vladimir Schmidt is now an 84 year old man. He’s the last survivor out of all the children who went to the “White Nursery” and he enabled me to find new documents about Spielrein. Sabina is a 20th century symbol: she was on an intellectual par with Jung and Freud, she battled against Stalinism and Nazism.
She came from a rich, middle class, Jewish Russian background, her father was a businessman. She died in 1942 in Rostov, the city where she was born, following a Nazi round-up. I’m amazed that the international psychiatric community isn’t interested in Sabina after her recovery in Zurich. Apart from being the first documented case of a love affair between a patient and an analyst, a representation of everything which shouldn’t happen on the psychiatrist’s couch, Sabina then became a psychiatrist and a scientist herself. When the amorous correspondence was discovered in the cellar of the Palais Wilson in Geneva, it was censored by Jung’s heirs. Then slowly but surely more letters were published, but even today some of them are censored. Prendimi l’anima features two letters by Spielrein which still haven’t been published. "
There have been two plays put on about Spielrein...
"Yes, one on Broadway and one in London. Julia Roberts wanted to make a film about Sabina."
How did you choose Iain Glen for the part of Carl Gustav Jung?
"I saw him at the theatre in the Blue room with Nicole Kidman. Glen was fascinated by Carl Jung and so he was perfect for this role. In fact it was a bit more difficult to find the person to play Sabina. We did a lot of screen tests throughout Europe and finally we chose Emilia Fox. "