Consistently absorbing and ultimately affecting, “Invisible Girlfriend” is a textbook example of what can result when savvy documentarians fortuitously connect (or, in this case, reconnect) with an interesting subject at precisely the right moment. Even the occasionally annoying smudginess of the DV lensing can’t diminish this latest effort by indie filmmakers David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, a picaresque account of a quixotic quest by a mostly engaging but sporadically unsettling fellow who sincerely believes he’s in communication with Joan of Arc. Pic should travel far through homevid and cable streams.
Charles Filhiol, a fortysomething eccentric who claims a psychic bond with the Maid of Orleans, first appeared in Redmon and Sabin’s “Kamp Katrina,” their doc about a makeshift community of Hurricane Katrina survivors in New Orleans. Filmmakers catch up with Charles in rural Northern Louisiana, where he lives with his aging parents and young children.
Although diagnosed as a “bipolar paranoid schizophrenic,” Charles admits he doesn’t always take his meds. He plans a journey from Monroe to New Orleans, where he can visit Joan of Arc — or at least a bronze statue of her in the city’s French Quarter — and reacquaint himself with an attractive barmaid who once showed him kindness.
Lacking a driver’s license, Charles sets out on a bicycle for an odyssey of several hundred miles. The filmmakers tag along, recording Charles’ backroads encounters with, among others, a cattle rancher worrying over the birth of a calf, the proprietor of a DIY memorial for fallen veterans, and a hospitable rural couple who appear not at all judgmental as Charles rhapsodizes about his “invisible girlfriend.”
Charles comes across with a mix of childlike curiosity and unforced empathy. On the road, however, the pic periodically reminds the aud of his mental instability — at once point, he angrily accuses the filmmakers of sabotaging his bicycle for dramatic effect — thereby generating mild suspense that percolates just beneath the surface of even the most easygoing interludes. Final scenes are genuinely heart-wrenching.