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Wie die anderen, madness beyond cliché


- The latest documentary by Constantin Wulff, the director behind the captivating Ulrich Seidl und die Bösen Buben, is in the running for the Prix de Soleure

Wie die anderen, madness beyond cliché
A scene of Wie die anderen

After having its world premiere last October at DOK Leipzig, Wie die anderen [+see also:
film profile
has landed at the Solothurn Film Festival, where it’s in the running for the Prix de Soleure. Its German director (who was raised in Switzerland and is Austrian by adoption), Constantin Wulff, abandons Ulrich Seidl’s bad boys (Böse Buben) to throw himself into the equally complex world of a psychiatric institution for children and teenagers just outside Vienna. 

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Filmed almost entirely live, without the use of the classic voiceover mechanism, Wie die anderen transports us to a mysterious and frightening world, that of child psychiatry. As Wulff himself explains, it was the very ghosts that hover over this world that he wanted to focus on, to free so-called “mad people” from the stigmatization that attaches itself to them like a second skin, sick and uncomfortable. What’s surprising is the power and depth of the film’s sequences, the fruit of long hours of observation, without the director having to overfill them with words. Constantin Wulff favours observation over descriptions to allow the reality playing out before his eyes to speak freely, a reality that oozes a sense of unease that increases as the film goes on, silent and extremely insidious. How can the institution really help its young patients as they continue to unravel at an unsettling pace? 

Wie die anderen replaces the excruciating screams and malicious gaze that film often attributes to mentally ill young people with a sense of calm as unsettling as it is real. Constantin Wulff stubbornly observes the small community that inhabits the clinic, filtering out everyone’s trivial and major concerns: the intense pressure and routine that drives the shifts of the medical staff and the abyssal concerns of the patients. They’re all constantly trying to maintain a balance. To some extent, Wie die anderen gives illness back its true rhythm, a terribly slow rhythm like that of a woodworm digging deep into the mind. Of course sometimes screams reverberate around the institution, but it is above all silence that dominates the film, the silence of long nights and the stubborn silences of the young patients. 

The discrete but confident way in which the director observes the young protagonists of his film lends it a deeply moving authenticity and truth. “Madness” seems tragically close, too close, so close that it almost makes us long for the evil and distant characters of Danny from The Shining and Damien from The Omen, to name but two. What sets the young patients followed by Constantin Wulff apart from our own children, from the “others” they desperately wish to resemble? Not much, save an indescribable sadness that has forced them into early adulthood, has made them into bruised but brave adults who are entitled to be judged like anyone else. This is the truth that Wie die anderen drives home.

The film was produced by Viennese company Navigator Film.

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(Translated from Italian)

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