SIGMUND FREUD – A JEW WITHOUT GOD

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by David Teboul

grade: 7.5

The man before the genius. Always. And it is precisely this that David Teboul wants to show in his films. And so, in Sigmund Freud – A Jew without God, the voice-over – the only ad hoc element, which is not part of the original archive footage – simply acts as a connection between one text and the next, designed also – and above all – to give fluidity and completeness to the whole mise-en-scène composed of film footage edited as a fictional feature.

In Freud’s world

Sigmund Freud. The father of psychoanalysis. A central figure, to say the least, in Austrian and world history. Undoubtedly there is much and much to be said about a character like his. But what is, or at any rate, what would be the best way to create one of the most intimate and faithful portraits ever made? The answer seems to have been found by French director David Teboul, who, with his Sigmund Freud – A Jew without God , made in 2020 and which should have been part of the selection of the Diagonale 2020, cancelled following the Covid-19 pandemic, drew heavily on numerous archive films, as well as letters and diaries written by Freud himself and by his daughter Anna.

A film, this one, that immediately stands out for the enormous care taken and for some of the most meticulous research work that can be done. And right from the first images, Sigmund Freud’s voice begins to tell us about himself, his origins, his childhood, his not easy condition as a descendant of a family of Jewish origin, his life in Austria and his exile in London.

Great importance to friendship and family, great love for dogs. And, in particular, for his chow-chows, which were so reminiscent of lion cubs. In Sigmund Freud – A Jew without God we are shown a human Freud, with all his weaknesses and passions, often lovingly described by his daughter Anna.

Images of an early 20th century Austria are here edited in the style of a fictional feature film. A constant, strongly sophisticated black and white accompanies us throughout the screening, right up to the moments immediately before the finale, in which we are given a glimpse – in colour – of a now elderly Sigmund Freud in the company of his daughter Anna. Through detailed studies of the individual frames, David Teboul has extracted close-ups, details, pans that well render the idea of the particular atmospheres depicted. A film, this one, which, in some ways, might even remind us of Peter Jackson’s excellent They Shall Not Grow Old (2018), but which, inevitably, leads us to draw parallels with two other previous works by Teboul himself, namely both documentaries dedicated to the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Here too, as in Sigmund Freud – A Jew without God, the focus is on the more human and vulnerable side of the man. Here too, curiously, we see the protagonist incredibly attached to his pet, in this case a friendly French bulldog.

The man before the genius. Always. And it is precisely this that David Teboul wants to show in his films. And so, in Sigmund Freud – A Jew without God, the voice-over – the only element created ad hoc, which is not part of the original archive footage – simply acts as a connection between one text and the next, intended also – and above all – to give fluidity and completeness to the entire mise-en-scène. The end result is a good hour and a half of real diving into a world – that of Sigmund Freud – that gradually becomes more and more familiar to us. A world in which the atrocities of the war and the anguish that many experienced at the time are a counterpoint to the fascinating and carefully curated images on the screen. Images of a distant past perfectly adapted to the present. Images of deep anxieties, but also of jovial moments, when, after various dramas and wanderings, one can finally enjoy a well-earned peace in one’s own, sunny backyard.

Original title: Sigmund Freud – Jude ohne Gott
Directed by: David Teboul
Country/year: France, Austria / 2020
Running time: 98’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: François Prodromidès, David Teboul
Cinematography: Martin Roux, Richard Copans
Produced by: Les Films d’ici, Arte France, WILDart Film

Info: the page of Sigmund Freud – A Jew without God on iMDb; the page of Sigmund Freud – A Jew without God on the website of the Diagonale