Hannah Strong


The Restless – first-look review

A family struggles to deal with the devastating effects of their patriarch’s bipolar disorder in Joachim Lafosse’s tender drama.

Often conversations around mental illness are short-reaching; they tend to consider more palatable symptoms or conditions, such as depression and anxiety, and fail to take into account not only the patient themselves but their loved ones. Living with a certain disorder can have far-reaching ramifications for families and friends, making relationships difficult to maintain and actions hard to explain.

In Joachim Lafosse’s family drama The Restless, the Belgian director explores how one man’s bipolar disorder casts a long shadow on the life he shares with his wife and young son.

Damien (Damien Bonnard) is a talented painter but claims he works best when he’s not taking his medication. The manic periods he experiences are times of immense productivity and inspiration, but also take quite a toll on Leïla (Leïla Bekhti) and Amine (Gabriel Merz Chammah) as well as his relationship with his father. He stays up for days, intrudes on his son’s classroom, and makes a scene at a local bakery; inevitably the mania is followed by catatonic depression for which Damien has to be hospitalised, leaving Leïla to care for their son as well as working on her furniture restoration business.

It’s a heartbreakingly familiar story for those who have experience with bipolar disorder, and also successful sheds a light on how deeply cruel the illness can be. Damien is stuck between a rock and a hard place – his medication has unpleasant side effects but without it he often loses control. An incident where he drives recklessly with his son in the car is a line in the sand for Leïla, who begins to think she may have to leave him for the sake of their child.

Yet Lafosse is careful to highlight the loving side of their relationship, and that the family has many pleasurable experiences together. Crucially, Damien’s illness does not define him but rather complicates matters. 

As the title implies, The Restless buzzes with a nervous sort of energy; as in Damien’s manic periods it feels like anything could happen. Although Bonnard’s performance is the standout for its physicality and understanding of bipolar disorder, Bekhti matches him all the way. We feel her immense pain, frustration and love, often in the same breath as she tries to shoulder the responsibility of caring for her husband as well as their son. 

A sense of uncertainty lingers even with the film’s conclusion, which reflects the reality of mental illness being a constant work in progress for those involved. It’s an emotional but never overwrought drama, and puts to bed the idea that geniuses always have to suffer for their art.

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Published 16 Jul 2021

Tags: Cannes Joachim Lafosse The Restless

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