CANNES, France (AP) — Playing a Freudian analyst helped Mathieu Amalric overcome his fear and loathing of psychotherapy.
The French actor depicts a maverick academic counseling Benicio Del Toro's Native American war vet in "Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian," director Arnaud Desplechin's Cannes Film Festival contender.
Based on a true case study from the late 1940s, it's the story of two men — doctor and patient — who go on difficult journeys into their own minds.
Amalric says he went on a similar trip himself. Before making the movie, psychoanalysis "frightened me so much that I rejected it, because my parental culture that told me maybe psychoanalysis had to do with weakness."
"You are not supposed to show weakness. You are supposed to 'be a man' ... That's what my father would think of psychoanalysis."
What the 47-year-old actor found through the movie was something different — "a world of adventure: of research, of physical danger and how the body and the mind expand."
Analysts could put that on their calling cards. No wonder Desplechin says the movie is "a manifesto for psychoanalysis," as well "a film about a man who needs to heal his own soul."
Amalric — most famous internationally as the villain in James Bond adventure "Quantum of Solace" — plays real-life French analyst Georges Devereux, who moved to the United States in the 1930s. He spent time living with Mojave Indians and helped develop the field of ethnopsychiatry, which studies the ways mental illness is understood in different cultural contexts.
Del Toro is his patient Jimmy Picard, who returned from World War II service in France with a head injury and debilitating psychological symptoms his doctors were unable to diagnose.
One of 20 films competing for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, the movie is a trans-Atlantic hybrid — an American story told by a French writer-director with a cast including Amalric, Puerto Rico-born Del Toro and British actress Gina McKee as Devereux's sophisticated love interest.
Desplechin says he sees it less as a specifically American tale than as a story of displaced people: both Jimmy, living on a Montana reservation, and Devereux, who initially struggled to find support for his ideas in the U.S.
Amalric, one of France's busiest actors, is such a Cannes darling he once appeared in three competition films in the same year. This year he's in two — "Jimmy P." and Roman Polanski's "Venus in Fur."
He says he enjoyed his time as a fish out of water filming in the U.S. "Jimmy P." was shot in Monroe, Michigan, a place Amalric remembers with a shudder of Gallic horror: "There was nothing there. Nothing."
"It was very intense, and the situation of the shooting itself made it even stronger, the fact that we would live all together in a hotel where there was nothing to do," he said during an interview on a Cannes rooftop terrace that would be idyllic if not for a bitter wind off the Mediterranean. "It was very close to the situation they were living in the middle of nothing."
The actor and Del Toro share a strong onscreen bond in the talk-heavy film. For long stretches the movie is an intense two-hander, with the slight Amalric and the beefy Del Toro making a compelling double act. Del Toro plays Jimmy with stoic understatement, while Amalric's Devereux is a piano-playing bundle of energy.
Amalric said he was initially surprised by Del Toro's working method. The actor didn't like to socialize off the set, or to rehearse — a technique Amalric now says turned out to be invaluable.
"During psychoanalysis, the words surprise you," he said. "You don't know why these words are coming out. But an actor is supposed to know his lines by heart, so you have this paradox.
"I didn't understand it," he said. "I understood it yesterday after seeing the film."
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless