Doc associates women’s mental health with the ethereal

As a work of art detailing the testimonies of ordinary women who faced terrifying postpartum anxiety, depression and psychosis, Elizabeth Sankey’s 90-minute goth-lite documentary Witches succeeds in shedding light on a stigmatized and often overlooked phenomenon that many new mothers experience. However, the director takes this solid concept and dilutes it with a trivial pseudo-feminist pop story, drawing a dubious connection between European and American witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries and the psychological suffering of women after birth.

Premiering at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival and to be distributed by streaming service MUBI, the film is certainly watchable but perhaps only 50% compelling.


The essential

Mainly pop feminist pseudo-history.

Place: Tribeca Film Festival (Viewpoints)
Director-screenwriter:Elizabeth Sankey

1 hour 30 minutes

Sankey argues that postpartum psychotic hallucinations may have led countless women of old to voluntarily confess to collaborating with Satan. She presents little evidence to support this theory, aside from reading aloud a few sentences from primary sources, and attempts to wrap her assumptions in trite, nebulous metaphors eager for modern women to embrace their inner witchcraft or other such nonsense.

Sankey, a British filmmaker who is also a member of the indie-pop band Summer Camp, takes a uniquely memoiristic take on the narrative, centering on the role of the film’s protagonist as she recounts the inner terror and horror that caused her submerged after giving birth to her. son a few years ago. She speaks candidly about her suicidal tendencies, her multiple emergency room visits, intrusive and unwanted thoughts of harming her baby, and ultimately her several-week stay in a mother-child psychiatric unit designed to help women heal while keeping them linked. to their infants.

The director’s honesty is both vital and refreshing, a valiant approach to normalizing situations that go beyond the simple “baby blues.” She also interviews friends who suffered similarly after their own childbirth, women she met through support group chats and the residential hospital where she sought treatment.

Striving to create her own type of psychological horror film, Sankey and production designer May Davies pay meticulous attention to the documentary’s ethereal visuals, with the filmmaker situating herself and her subjects in fanciful interior settings awash in greens and purples, celestial settings and sprawling ivy. . Sankey is also scrupulous about her own “black woman” costume which contrasts her ghostly complexion with crimson lipstick, a brown bob, a black sweater and gold pendants. Its voiceover narration juxtaposes video footage from dozens of popular films featuring witches and women suffering from mental illness, including I married a witch

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