In the artful, but sadly drab avant garde autobiography I Send You This Place, designer and artist Andrea Sisson teams up with co-director Pete Ohs to document how spending time with her schizophrenic brother in Iceland allowed her to see the world in a new way. It’s certainly pretty to look at and certain moments are assuredly genuine, but overall the film is far too smug and overly calculated to hold any real emotional resonance. It’s rigid rather that organic, drained of any of the life needed to make Sisson’s approach work.
This is a film that seems like it wants to tell a personal story, but it’s a very distant third place behind the actual construction of the most artful images possible and how those images relate to the hyper-philosophical dialogue. Andrea’s brother Jake suffers from schizophrenia. Andrea suffers from ADD herself. She goes to spend time with him and talk to him in hopes of better understanding his feelings and his world, but also learns more about herself and mental illness as possible.
Let’s put aside for a second that the film simply and reprehensibly thinks that merely going to Iceland will give people a better understanding of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and ADD and the film’s ludicrous attempts and slyly throwing in a message about holistic healing methods – literally prefaced by a floating box with a title card that says “This box is important” and later by Sisson exclaiming “You can’t medicate the wind!” While I personally have deep issues with something like that, it’s ultimately not the reason the film fails.
The film fails because it’s really hard to buy into Sisson’s altruistic need to understand her brother better. She doesn’t really seem to care all that much aside from several scenes where she’s actually having a dialogue with him, and even then it’s because Jake seems to be catching her off guard with the things he says, almost like she wishes she had thought of his own brand of distant poetry herself. Nothing about Sisson’s efforts pay off because she can’t let anything play out naturally, and all of the potential emotion to her thesis and indeed her own personal story get sucked out of the work like an airlock.
There are lots of shots of empty hallways where Sisson brandishes a guitar behind her back like she’s about to smash it, shots of ice floes, wide angles of people walking out along an icy tundra, talk of old Gods, wind mixed ever so imperfectly across the tip of a microphone to drown the audience into submission. There isn’t a single moment that hasn’t been overanalyzed to death, and when the very film is about NOT analyzing things in life too deeply and accepting your own flaws for what they are, the film becomes an absolute null set.
The final straw, and indeed the moment that sums up Sisson’s work in general, comes when she interviews her brother in an all white room following a stay in an institution. It involves everything being meticulously set up, never seeing Jake, Andrea fake crying on camera, and then all of a sudden a super-tiny man starts running around the floor. It’s a film that ultimately can’t help anyone other than the person who made it and a failed art experiment to boot.