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 A Still Jacket


Synopsis


Roman doesn`t speak – not a word in twenty-six years. But the joy he takes in filming and being filmed is one expression of his life with autism. We follow Roman and Xaver through their daily routine on a farm in the Swiss Jura (Northwestern Switzerland). There are cows to be looked after and wood to be chopped. The drama between them ensues around the educational use of a chainsaw, with the aid of which Xaver attempts to help Roman acquire a feeling for physical control. A fascinating, often conflicted relationship, in which forces of attraction and rejection alternate in quick succession, develops between Roman and Xaver. At times, Roman appears to draw strength froms Xaver`s calm and understanding manner. At other times, he reacts with violent rejection. For a while, Xaver manages to wake and sustain Roman’s interest and to draw him out of his isolation. However, setbacks follow soon, riddles remain unsolved. «A Still Jacket» is a film about relationships and their impossibility. Moments of peace and security – underlined by poetic nature observations – are contrasted by depictions of desperate emotional outbursts and anxiety attacks. Ramòn Giger not only succeeds in drawing a striking portrait, but realizes a contemplative reflection on the nature of human relationships themselves. «A Still Jacket» formulates an appeal to impartiality and unadulterated sensuousness and turns the roles of director and actor, of those filming and those being filmed, on their head. In the end, Xaver dies. Asked what he would like to give Xaver for along the way, Roman’s answer is: «the strength to let go».


Director’s Statement


In search of my own social competence, I completed my civil service (an alternative for conscientious rejectors to the mandatory military service in Switzerland) in a home for disabled people. There, I got to know Roman and Xaver and came into contact with a situation which shed a completely new light on questions I had regarding interhuman relationships, empathy and understanding for another human being. I wondered which kind of relationship a person whose only survival strategy is total self-isolation is capable of, even though he presumably has the same need for affection and social interaction as everyone else and may yearn especially strongly to be noticed and recognized by his environment. And, in turn, which kind of understanding can I (as someone capable of ‘normal’ social interaction) develop for Roman, whose experience of life – so I assume – is completely different from my own? The assumption that Roman, due to his autism, thinks primarily audio-visually and not linguistic-conceptually, prompted me to focus the filmic search predominantly on Roman’s unique mode of perception. I often found myself prejudiced by clichés and scientific theses of how the world of an autistic person was supposed to work. A process leading to a radical rethinking started. It was Roman himself who gave the key to a more just and balanced approach: he wanted to be considered as a “total human being”, not just as an autistic person. This approach, which rejects any form of psychologizing, opened up a whole new perspective on Roman. I’m noticing that in common usage the term ‘autism’ is no longer understood as a disability but rather as otherness, even though it can absolutely affect sufferers’ lives in a significant way and severely limit their independence. Strictly speaking, only very few autistic people suffer from a mental disability. In most cases, their intelligence quotient (IQ) is average to above-average. Roman, too, is neither physically nor mentally disabled. Even so, his appearance and behavior are interpreted as ‘handicapped’. So the discrepancy between his outer appearance and his inner nature is only a perceived one. The typical prejudice that autistic people are incapable of developing compassion for those around them is suggestive of that irritation. Far be it from me to call into question the fact that autistic people have difficulties in ‘correctly’ interpreting human interactions, nor that this insecurity is experienced as a threat and affects their attitude towards others. However, it is impossible to infer from this the true nature of their inner experiencing. Is it not true for all of us that we allow real meeting of hearts and minds with others only when, in doing so, something significant is decided? I can well imagine that, sitting at my father’s deathbed, I will recollect all the opportunities I missed to truly meet with him. And I will wonder why I was unable to allow that intimate connection before. But for this, no symptomatic picture needs to be drawn for I am like Roman in this, and Roman simply a human being.


Related Articles

“Seeing the world from many angles

Documentary Festival opens: Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM) presents 115 films from 32 countries, from Nov. 9 to 20.”

http://www.montrealgazette.com/entertainment/movie-guide/Seeing+world+from+many+angles/5612872/story.html



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