For his tremendous impact on our perception of human behavior, we can view history as before or after Sigmund Freud. A post-Freud world looking at a pre-Freud world can hardly imagine how (or if) people discussed their anxieties and frustrations about themselves or others. But thanks to Freud and his psychoanalysis, we are so accustomed to Oedipedal and Elektra complexes that they’ve become clichés. Today, everything can be psychoanalyzed; everyone is messed up. We may be sick of Freud’s theories, but the people who lived during the 19teens and witnessed the popularization of his ideas knew only novelty and enlightenment. Joaquin Oristrell’s film “Unconscious” is a brilliant exploration into the implications of Freud’s theories on one family.
Set in 1913 Spain, Oristrell’s film begins as a mystery-comedy, transitions into a suspense-drama, and ends in a romance about Alma (Leonor Watling), a wife nine months pregnant enlisting the help of her brother-in-law Salvador (Luis Tosar) to find her missing husband Leon (Alex Brendemuhl). Ignoring his better judgment, as well the possibility of incurring the jealousy of his wife and Alma’s sister Olivia (Nuria Prims), Salvador agrees to aid his sister-in-law decipher and follow a trail of clues. “Unconscious” commences in a whirlwind of action and commotion as a female narrator quickly establishes the historical context of the film (World War I was heating up, invention of the bra). Dated images accompany the voice. The film is divided into sections, each with its own title (such as “Quest For Missing Husband,” “Hysterical Women: Four Cases,” “Life is Full of Surprises” and “Totem and Taboo”), creating a vignette effect. The occasional marionette-like movements of the characters and film speed is reminiscent of films from that decade.
Considering the content of “Unconscious,” one would expect a plethora of verbal and visual puns, but one would be wrong. There’s a surprising but refreshing paucity of blatant phallic imagery. In fact, the only visual joke concerning the phallus involves a cigarette. Much of the sexual innuendo appears in the dialogue and in the truth behind Leon’s vanishing act. For us, experimenting with sexuality is socially tolerated, culturally accepted, and psychologically a given. We may even be dissatisfied with a psychoanalytic explanation for our anxiety, but for the characters in the film and the people of that time, when secrets surface as a family affair, Freud brings relief.