The affliction of tics is so easily skewed toward broad comedy that writer-director Philippe Locquet’s dramatizing it in “The Ticcers” becomes an achievement in itself. Even more notably, the drama dares toward the abstract and uncertain, while consistently maintaining a bead on its human subjects. Clearly influenced by the Dogme style while rejecting its stringent rules, pic pulses with interior mystery and an extremely talented cast that resists overplaying. Despite world preem at London fest and Stateside unspoolings at L.A.’s Method Fest and Houston’s Worldfest, major fest dates have gone undeservedly begging. Prospects are better for specialized tube airings, but well-handled niche release in upscale markets isn’t out of the question.
Brought up before an intimidating board of review for an apparent violation, unorthodox psychiatrist Dr. Philippe Lehman (Philippe Manez) must explain his methods for curing ticcer patients. Sharp flashback to a rural estate shows Lehman treating seven ticcers with an unsettling combination of loving care and manic unpredictability.
Group is introduced en masse, and then, one at a time through childhood flashbacks shown in blown-up Super 8, a flashback to a recent workplace incident and direct-address monologue. Locquet intersperses these throughout so they never feel programmatic, even if the pattern grows familiar.
Max (Max Boublil) is trying to get over his tics in order to be a thesp; Nelly (Nelly Amado) has a nearly invisible tic; Mathieu (Mathieu Lagarrigue) has a verbal tic that sounds like a duck’s quack; Annie (Annie Pauleau-Gauthier) has a slight tic that gets in the way of her teaching; Bruno (Bruno Therasse) distracts from his tic by drawing each of the patients and Lehman nude; Slony (Slony Sow) is the most mellow; and Leandre (Leandre Torres) has an extreme neck tic and insists he can talk to dogs.
Lars Von Trier in his “Idiots” mode would have gone hog wild with all of this, but Locquet is a much more sober filmmaker. In this sense, pic parallels Vincent Lanoo’s outstanding Dogme work, “Strass,” about a controversial drama teacher. Locquet manages to build tension bit by bit, through a series of Lehman’s increasingly odd therapies, which climax with a hike and a rope descent off a sheer cliff. Sex intrudes in the freely arranged setting, but things really get out of hand when Lehman points out magic mushrooms in a field to Mathieu, whose nibbles seem to cure him. Appearances in pic, though, are deceptive, and Locquet’s ability to stretch time and space pushes the film toward some beautifully realized abstraction and ellipses.
Manez leads the remarkable cast with his portrayal of a slowly burning-out radical. Pauleau-Gauthier makes an especially strong impression as a woman who seems to be getting through to Lehman’s humanity, and Lagarrigue unexpectedly takes over pic’s climax.
Blend of digital vid and Super 8 by lenser Margaux Bonhomme creates startling optical disjunctions, and soundtrack is an audio garden of trance-like music and original sound effects.