A bit of a darker, deeply literate look at the link between art and mental illness, and definitely one of our artier and more experimental films, is Australian writer-director Kyle William McDonough’s “Farewell Happy Fields.” Taking its title from “Paradise Lost” and drawing generously upon “The Waste Land,” it sets out its bold, some might say pretentious, agenda early. It reminds me a bit of one of my favorite movies from last year, “Madeline’s Madeline.” Much like that film, it features artists who find catharsis for their mental illness through performance, but almost to the point of compulsion, where they can no longer separate it from their personal lives.
McDonough states from the beginning that the intent of his documentary is to explore mental illness through Sydney poetry–specifically the award-winning poetry of Fiona Wright. Fiona is a perfect subject for this cause, reading a chilling and beautiful poem about her struggles with anorexia that plays on T.S. Eliot and especially his line “Do I dare to eat a peach?”
What happens backstage becomes equally as important though. McDonough and Wright discuss the onset of their disorders, his being depression and hers being anorexia, and how they have upset their lives. McDonough is very candid in his recounting of suicidal ideation, to the point where he deeply disturbs one of his crew members, who tells him he hopes he’ll be around for many years to come.
Gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, flashing lights, and a sense of disorientation as to what is happening during filming, and where the line between that and real life is, slot “Farewell Happy Fields” into the arthouse film category. It has more in common with poetry than it does with narrative, which is entirely appropriate.
“Farewell Happy Fields” played in the third shorts block on Sunday 10/13/19, from 7:00 p.m.-7:40 p.m.