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Film review: Evelyn

16 November 2018

Stephen Brown views a bereaved filmmaker’s documentary on loss

A grieving family take a pilgrimage-like journey in the landscape loved by the dead man, in Evelyn

A grieving family take a pilgrimage-like journey in the landscape loved by the dead man, in Evelyn

EVELYN (Cert. 12A), about bereavement, grief, and loss, has been made by the documentary film director Orlando von Einsiedel. His Virunga investigated an oil company’s ecological impact on the Congo. The White Helmets won an Oscar for its depiction of Syrian Defence Force volunteers rescuing victims of bombings. This time, he tells the story of his own brother’s suicide.

It has taken 13 years for his family to start talking about this. Evelyn was a brilliant young man who developed schizophrenia. Orlando, his other brother, Robin, and their sister, Gwennie, take off on a hiking tour. At various points, they are joined by parents and friends. Their mother walks and talks with them as they traverse the Cairngorms. She brought the children up alone.

Peta and her ex-husband (a descendent of Bismarck, Germany’s first Chancellor) didn’t speak for years. We learn from her how spiritual Evelyn was — so much so that one of the brothers declares that if he had to pray, then it would be to Evelyn. It is quite a breakthrough for them even to mention their brother by name.

The children’s father, Andreas, doesn’t appear to have the same problem. They meet him and his wife, Johanna, in Penrith. Tensions clearly exist, especially with Gwennie. Less certain is whether their walk through the Lake District brings any kind of healing. Johanna is perceptive about the underlying causes. Indeed, it is the insights of those who are not blood relatives which enable some owning of hitherto unexpressed emotions.

The comfort of strangers persists. They meet John who runs an ice-cream van. His mother took her own life. John’s family have been able to talk about it and create occasions when they can rejoice over all that she was and did. Best of all, when Jack and Leon, friends of Evelyn, accompany them, Orlando is challenged about facing up to what has happened. He’s more comfortable turning the camera on others and asking searching questions. He struggles to open up himself.

The film is a couragous attempt to examine a family’s repressed feelings. The journeys that they take are through Evelyn’s favourite landscapes. Thus, following in the footsteps of a revered forebear, it displays certain hallmarks of pilgrimage. There is the semblance of worship at set-piece views of outstanding natural beauty. The element of sheer endurance, physical but also emotional, is plain to see. But for the motivation of finally articulating their loss, it is hard to imagine that they would have continued with the enterprise. And, like any pilgrim walk, their journeying carries no guarantee that there will be restored peace of mind at the end.

Evelyn is being promoted as alerting viewers to the high incidence of male suicide. Disappointing, therefore, is the lack of any real investigation into why people, not Evelyn alone, descend into utter despair, and what kind of pastoral care would rescue them. The psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s favourite saying that those who have a “why” to live can endure almost any “how” feels ignored.

Evelyn is being screened in various venues in the coming weeks. See www.evelynmovie.com

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