The White Sound, 2001, Germany
At first glance, one might think this film were a documentary. Shot on a very low budget, The White Sound is a horrifyingly raw and honest portrayal of the realities of schizophrenia.
Lukas (Daniel Brühl) is a young man from the country moving to the city to live with his sister, Kati (Anabelle Lachatte), and her boyfriend, Jochen (Patrick Joswig). He’s excited, and eager, but soon begins to display the troubling early symptoms of schizophrenia. On a date with a girl he met at a party, he lashes out at the ticket seller at the local theatre in a fit of paranoid delusion. As his symptoms get more severe, Lukas begins hearing voices that can only be calmed by the sound of running water. Kati and Jochen struggle to figure out what is going on and get him the help and support he needs.
Mental illness is always a difficult topic, and one that must be tackled with sensitivity. Films that depict a person’s descent into psychosis always unsettle me. This film incorporated the voices Lukas heard into the sound mixing (and the subtitles for the voices were in all capitals so non-German speaking watchers can see what dialogue are the voices, and what isn’t). Hearing the voices, and watching Lukas’ tormented reactions add a horrifying element to the film. It feels painfully real. At times I was reminded of the film Black Swan, which also tackles the topic of mental illness in a very uncomfortable and realistic way.
Another thing the film does right is the reaction of Lukas’ family. His sister tries her best to be supportive, but does not know how to be a caregiver, and does not know what he needs, despite her best efforts. Jochen is the perfect example of the ignorant fool who gives advice they are not qualified to give, with disastrous consequences.
I can’t say enough about Brühl’s performance. His portrayal of Lukas was heartbreaking and showed a real understanding of the torment someone that ill experiences. He successfully endears himself to the audience in the early moments of the film before haunting our souls for the next hour and a half. It was truly a remarkable performance – perhaps his best, in fact. This is quite a feat, as he was in his early 20s when he shot this film, and he’s done some very remarkable work since. I’ve been quite open about the fact that I’m a huge admirer of his work, and films like this one are why. He’s the best actor of his generation, in my opinion.
Unfortunately, like much of Brühl’s work, The White Sound is not easy to find in North America. If you’re interested in watching it, you’ll have to purchase an imported copy of it!