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Native Americans At The Heart Of Leading Cannes Festival Film

posted 19 May 2013, 04:24 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 19 May 2013, 04:24 ]

French director Desplechin's fourth film to compete at Cannes, 'Jimmy P.' centres on Native Americans

CANNESFRANCE (MAY 18, 2013) (REUTERS) -  French director Arnaud Desplechin's "Jimmy P. Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian," presented in Cannes on Saturday (May 18), is focused on the relationship between World War II veteran Jimmy Picard, a Native American Blackfoot, and Devereux, his psychoanalyst.

Inspired by a true story in Georges Devereux's 1951 book "Reality And Dream" the film shows the growing friendship between the two men, learning from each other how to become Americans, Desplechin said.

"The story of these two men who are meeting when actually... you know, one is coming from Montana, the other one is coming from France and they meet in this no place which is Topeka and so they have nothing to do except being friends. And the two of them are not fully American, you I mean, because one is a native and the other one because he is French -- he is a liar, he's not French, because he's European -- and so it seems to me that the two men are are learning during the process of the film, they are learning how to inhabit a land, a country and the two of them, at the end of the movie, start to be American," the director said at a news conference.

Blackfoot actress Misty Upham said she was living her dream at the glitzy Cannesfilm festival after starting life on a reservation and that like Picard, played by Puerto Rican actor Benicio Del Toro, she is Blackfeet, the largest tribe in Montana state. She said she was a direct descendant of the last chief and grew up on the reservation where much of the movie was shot.

"I grew up on the reservation we filmed on and I had no dreams, no way to make a dream and I had to leave the reservation. So 18 years later, of doing films and Indies, finally getting to work with Benicio and coming full circle to the reservation I left to pursue my dream and just to be in the presence of these people there, it was really really touching and really beautiful. And I didn't ahve to put a lot of work in because I'm Blackfeet and it's not hard to be in love with Benicio Del Toro," she said.

Upham said her presence at Cannes was a "big deal" as she believed she and another "Jimmy P." actress, Michelle Thrush, a Cree from Canada, were the first Native American women in the official selection at Cannes which is now in its 66th year.

Festival organisers were unable to confirm if Upham and Thrush were the first Native American women in the main categories at Cannes.

The film set in 1948 follows Jimmy as he checks into a military hospital in Topeka,Kansas, that specialises in mental illness for war veterans to be treated for numerous symptoms, including temporary blindness, hearing loss and dizzy spells.

The doctors are baffled by his psychological problems and decide to call in anthropologist and psychoanalyst Devereux (Mathieu Amalric) a specialist in Native American culture who spent two years living with the Mojave Native Americans.

Del Toro, who won the best actor award at Cannes in 2008 for "Che", said it was important for him to understand the history of Native Americans to get to grips with his character.

"First you have to understand the character, where he comes from. The history of Native American, there's a big story there that is still unresolved and, so ou have to go from that approach," he said.

The oppression of Native Americans remains a stain on the history of the United States following the seizure of land, removal of children from families, and violation of treaties.

The 2010 census found 5.2 million people in the United States identified as American Indians and Alaska Natives while government figures this year showed they had the highest poverty rate in the country, of 27 percent, from 2007 through 2011.

"Jimmy P." is Desplechin's fourth film selected for the main competition at Canneswith the prestigious Palme D'Or for best picture to be awarded on the festival's final day, May 26.