The winners have been announced in Amsterdam for the 28th IDFA’s Awards. Jerzy Sladkowski’s Don Juan has won the VPRO IDFA Award for Best Feature Length Documentary, making it the first Swedish film to win the prestigious award.
In Don Juan, twenty-two year old Oleg doesn’t live up to his mother Marina’s idea of a real man. She thinks he’s an autistic loafer. He’s enrolled at the University of Nizhny Novgorod and is supposed to be watching online lectures, but his mother says all he actually does is hang around watching TV. Oleg doesn’t have any need for friendships, either.
Marina wants him to improve his life and subjects him to a series of unconventional treatments. In one particularly uncomfortable scene, we see the therapist riding him as if he were a horse. Another psychiatrist tells Oleg how useless he is and that he will always be alone. Strangely enough the camera seems to be welcome everywhere, and it closely follows these dramatic developments.
Don Juan raises questions about the distinction between introversion and autism. When will Oleg be allowed to be himself at last? Salvation eventually comes from an unexpected source. It is an encouraging victory for humanity, as well as a comment on mental health care.
The jury said in their deliberation: “This tender, bittersweet tragicomedy about role-playing within both therapeutic theatre games and family dramas, and the interplay between them, is both subtle and aggressive, speaking volumes about the definitions of normality, abnormality and the dynamics of power and love.”