It is likely only the result of an incredibly strong year in short film that writer/director Kate Novack's Hysterical Girl didn't end up amongst this year's Oscar nominees after having been recognized among this past year's shortlisted films.
Indeed, there's simply no question that Hysterical Girl is one of the year's best short films. It's a mesmerizing journey into the world of Sigmund Freud's techniques for psychoanalysis that, while still often revered, are at minimum problematic.
In this case, Novack uses a feminist lens to take a look at the case of Dora, Freud's only major case history of a female patient, and examines, on a certain level calling out, findings that indicate far more about the culture in which they were derived than they do the teenage girl who was "helped."
The girl in question, brought strangely and beautifully to life here by Tommy Vines, was a teenager whose parents brought her to Freud after she'd self-reported experiencing sexual assault. Weaving together Freud's findings and contemporary clips of similar "examinations," Novack captures the heartbreaking reality that Freud's theories shamed and silenced this survivor as they continue to do so today.
Hysterical Girl was acquired by The New York Times' Op-Docs, the short film arm of the paper's opinion pages, and distributed theatrically by Grasshopper Film. Nominated by the International Documentary Association for Best Short of the Year, the film was also a nominee for Best International Film at the Norwich Film Festival.
Tommy Vines is absolutely stunning here, every little gesture mesmerizing and her words and physicality capturing both the historical and contemporary response to these words seemingly simultaneously. So complete is her work here that it was almost jarring to look up her IMDB page and see a photo of her smiling (most certainly no thanks to Freud). Remarkably, this is her first film credit.
"Dora," whose real name we now know to be Ida Bauer, tells her story here alongside Freud and alongside contemporaries questioned in a way so similar that it's undeniably heartbreaking. Freud's examination over the course of 11-weeks includes such questions as "Why would she keep seeing the man she said assaulted her?" "Was she out for revenge?" "Did she secretly want it?"
I cringe as I remember these words.
Hysterical Girl is a remarkable film. It's historically accurate yet vividly realized in Novack's structuring of the material. Music by Clare and Olivier Manchon is a sublime accompaniment while lensing from Andrew Rossi and Bryan Sarkinen is sublime. It should be mentioned that Brian Kelly's work here as Freud is memorable, though in a world where Freud's voice is still most often heard it is that of Dora which is most revealing and unforgettable.
You can still see Hysterical Girl for yourself as part of The New York Times' Op-Docs and The Independent Critic has linked directly to it in the credits to encourage your own checking out of this timely, thought-provoking, and incredibly important short film.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic