________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 4 . . . . October 13, 2006


This Beggar’s Description.

Pierre Tétrault (Director & Writer). Gerry Flahive (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2005.
65 min., VHS & DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 9105 214.

Subject Headings:
Schizophrenics - Quebec (Province)-Montreal-Biography.
Schezophrenics-Social Aspects.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.

Review by Cathy Vincent-Linderoos.

**** /4

The prose, poetry and music of Philip Tetrault come to life in a moving video about one man's life, his schizophrenia and his personal impact on his family and others.

     Pierre Tétrault, writer and director of This Beggar's Description, illustrates many aspects of the mental illness we call schizophrenia. Much of the film's footage was shot of Philip, Pierre’s brother. Integral  to Pierre's admiring, caring perspective, we often see and hear Philip reading from his own written work, playing the pan flute and chatting with others. In one scene, we see him apparently drunk and shouting his heart out while perched on some roadside refuse. The Montreal backdrop -- complete with several fragments of Leonard Cohen songs --  sets the tone perfectly for this haunting tribute to one man with a  disability and his life's work. An engaging cameo appearance with Cohen chatting to Philip about his poetry is included.

     Numerous creative film techniques are used to convey how reality may have appeared to Philip during some of his psychotic episodes. These techniques serve to show us more "clearly" the disorienting, terror-inducing aspects of the illness. We are left with the image of a resourceful, talented man who somehow has maintained a sense of humour and an appreciation for the few beautiful aspects of his life on the street -- despite staggering, ongoing loss and suffering.

     Through the presentation of the points of view of those who see Philip as a brave man and as someone who values his rare but warm moments of contact with family members, we are encouraged to suspend any harsh judgements we might have. Overall, we come to see him more as an accomplished writer, musician, connected father and less as a homeless person who drinks too much. At one point, Pierre points out that it is ultimately Philip, his mentally ill yet sensitive brother, who is able to help him come to terms with the death of their cherished mother.

     The film won the 2006 C.B.C. Newsworld Award for Best Documentary in the Independent Film and Video Festival. It would be an excellent choice of documentary to show high school or college students who are studying mental illness, schizophrenia, homelessness, or disability and stereotyping. This film does not comment directly upon about the huge costs of an inadequate social safety net to people with mental illness as it affects individual Canadians and their loved ones, nor the gaping absence of adequate housing in this country for hard-to-serve people with mental illnesses. However, it would be a very good springboard to these particular discussions. Students should be asked why, in their opinion, the director did not include any commentary in this film about the issue of homelessness today in Canadian cities.

Highly Recommended.

Cathy Vincent-Linderoos is a retired teacher living in London ON. She is a member of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance which can be found at www.aodaalliance.org.



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