The Hypnosis (Hypnosen) first seen at the BFI London Film Festival 2023
“I was 11 years old when I got my first period,” says Vera (Asta Kamma August) in the opening scene of Ernst De Geer’s The Hypnosis (Hypnosen). Standing, as though to punctuate her menstrual theme, against a red background, Vera describes her confusion and horror as the blood kept gushing and gushing from her, until finally she overcame her shame and told her mother, which may well have saved her life.
This is an intimate personal confession – of menarche and till then undiagnosed haemophilia – but it is also a pitch, as Vera rehearses what is in fact a carefully scripted monologue designed to attract investors to Epione, the app designed by Vera and her husband Andre (Herbert Nordrum) to help women – especially in impoverished countries – monitor their periods and pregnancy, so that others less privileged than Vera can get the kind of help that she was able to get from her mother. The practised nature of Vera’s schtick makes the whole process ring false and feel queasily exploitative, both of women’s real suffering across the globe – and, secondarily, of Vera herself and her own decidedly first-world problems, here commodified as part of a sales come-on under the mere guise of vulnerable candour.
A pitch is a compromising dance between exposing who you really are, and offering what your audience wants you to be. It is, as slick, smarmy pitching guru Julian (David Fukamachi Regnfors) will later insist, acting – a kind of performance, with its own stage and a very targeted audience. This weekend, on the recommendation of Vera’s in fact overbearing, undermining mother Jessica (Aviva Wrede), the couple are at a hotel, attending Julian’s pitching course Shake Up. This event will culminate in a real pitch to real investors, and so is an opportunity that could make or break the couple’s startup company and their projected future together.
With the pressure on, Vera visits a hypnotherapist (Karin de Frumerie) shortly before the event, ostensibly to quit smoking – but in fact she divulges that since childhood she has been conforming to rôles that others impose on her, and agrees to the therapist’s proposal to “try something a bit radical”. The weight that this process lifts off Vera’s shoulders is expressed visually by the fact that, as she leaves the consultation office, she is seen to levitate a few centimetres off the ground.
Vera has changed, alright. While she certainly has not quit smoking (which only others ever wanted her to do anyway), she is now forward, impulsive, unusually free of inhibition – and although she continues the play-acting that is a part of pitching, she adopts parts of her own choosing to try out, and veers way off script.
Now the focus shifts to Andre, a control freak forced to witness the chaos that his wife keeps introducing. As he struggles to salvage the pitch, he must also confront who he is and what he really values and wants, as his obstinate commitment to the life plan that Vera clearly no longer herself desires reveals his own bestial nature, once the leash comes off.
The Hypnosis starts as an anxious comedy of manners, before shifting to a psychological study of the different rôles that we play and the lies that we tell each other (and ourselves) to get what we imagine we want. Meanwhile the recurring motif of pretend dogs and light puppy play evokes P. Valkeapää’s Dogs Don’t Wear Pants (2019), Josh Stifter’s Greywood’s Plot(2019) and Viljar Bøe’s Good Boy (2022) – all films which use the language and imagery of BDSM to explore the unstable power dynamics in a relationship.
Here Vera, whose very name is the feminine form of the Latin word for ‘true’, has radically changed direction in her quest for an authentic self, and if desperate, weak-willed, terrified Andre is to meet her half way, he must do so as an equal, at least in part on her terms, and be prepared to piss all over the conventions that till now have defined him. This is funny and awkward, while approaching a difficult, painful truth that defies facile pitching.
strap: Ernst De Geer’s rôle-playing comedy shows a couple struggling to buy the image, professional and personal, that they themselves are pitching to others
© Anton Bitel