Summer Survivors (2018) ‘TIFF’ Review – A Road Trip through the Various Facets of Mental Illness

Mental health is something rarely discussed well in cinema. Yes, there exists a lot of examples of mental illness and its effects shown in media, but very few of them manage to clearly encapsulate the trauma and pain of a patient dealing with such experiences. As a person who himself suffers from depression and anxiety, it has been a gripe of mine to see mental illness being either romanticized or demonized without a middle ground. Disheartening at the very least and angering at the same time is the fact that the plight of so many people across the globe is never really portrayed well in such a widespread medium. Then comes along a little Lithuanian gem called Summer Survivors.

Marija Kavtaradze does something very contrarian in Summer Survivors. She takes an unusual narrative and spins it into a tale of tragic hopefulness.

Summer Survivors involves three protagonists, namely Indre (Indre Patkauskite), Paulius (Paulius Markevicius) and Juste (Gelmine Glemzaite). Indre is a research intern whose aim is to operate the biofeedback machine in order to quantify the chances of suicide attempting individuals repeating the event. Paulius and Juste are two patients in a mental facility, common in their need for therapy and different in their attitude towards it. Paulius is a young man suffering from bipolar disorder and Juste is a young woman suffering from anxiety and depression, which culminated in an attempted suicide. What brings these three together is a road trip where Paulius needs to be dropped off at a hospital and a conference that needs to be attended.

Summer Survivors
Paulius Markevicius and Gelmine Glemzaite as Paulius and Juste (Credits: Heretic Outreach)

Summer Survivors weaves together three contrasting and conflicting personalities who are bound by circumstances. It provides a rare unadulterated glimpse into the mannerisms and behaviour of human beings suffering from mental issues, and never descends to an extreme preachiness or disregarding apathy towards its subject matter. Raw and genuine, the films remains engaging throughout, owing to its simplistic, nuanced portrayal of its protagonists. Director Marija Kavtaradze skillfully handles sequences that might have been unfitting inside this melancholic plotting. What it results in is a crescendo of crazy and emotional, almost like something that is so out of reality’s grasp but at the same time being way too relatable to many.

The highlight of the film has to be the three outstanding lead actors in Gelmine Glemzaite, Paulius Markevicius and Indre Patkauskaite, each holding their own when it comes to their characters.

Gelmine, who plays Juste, subtly opens up unexplored façades within her character and in the process, opens herself up to the viewers, grasping us in the finer moments when Juste jokes around with Paulius or when she breaks down in the middle of the street. These scenes are enhanced in their impact by the other two, Paulius and Indre, who comfort Juste. Paulius imbues a cocktail of melancholic madness and tragic craziness to the joker of the road trip, adding depth to an unfolding chaotic character. His interactions and the hiding pain behind the mask of the class clown elevates the character past what it should have been. Indre is the uptight psychologist, cold and almost unsympathetic and selfishly absorbed in her own academic pursuits. Things start taking a turn when both Juste and Paulius begin to open up to her and her pursuits to not be an embarrassment in front of her reporting mentor. Such instances lead to humorous sequences that feel like a breath of fresh air within the mundanity of the deranged.

Summer Survivors
Gelmine Glemzaite as Juste (Credits: Heretic Outreach)

What stands to be the biggest achievement of the film is in its technical department. Almost oxymoronic in its approach, the story shows us two pained individuals and a visual aspect exuding hope. Bright and loud in its use of colour, Summer Survivors visually encourages you to care for its characters, helping you along the process of hoping they come out fine by the end of the film. The lush passing scenery through the window glass and first-person camera angles give you the sense of being another traveller in the vehicle, one with your own problems and one who’s no more okay than the ones sitting at the back. Combined with subtle instrumentals and loud music pieces, Summer Survivors embodies the summer season, painting the world around in all its sun-kissed glory.

By the end an impending sense of tragedy starts lingering, like a ghostly presence waiting for you to take notice. What happens of the characters is left for you to decode, but its an ending that hits hard any individual fighting their own battles with mental health. Where the film does suffer from are the repetitive sources of conflict and humour. While real life may be just as ordinary, it displays oddly when showcased in cinema. Whether we choose to see it as a deliberate attempt to recreate the claustrophobic mundanity of the mentally ill or a genuine failure at imagining better sequences, it rarely lets the film suffer as the performances of the cast are far too strong to halt the marching band that is Summer Survivors.

In the era when under-representation of mental health and the lack of awareness is rampant, Summer Survivors stands as an important drama for the uninitiated and powerful commentary on the finer moments that are found within the graph of mental illness. The demonic presence of mental illness can attack unannounced, but it can also hide to reveal singular moments of happiness. Summer Survivors embodies the sudden nature of mental illness, but it also embodies the monumental resilience of us human beings, our sheer nakedness inside the shelter of intimacy and our ability to find joy within our surroundings even when the circumstances are anything but happy.

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Jack of many trades, but a master of none. A businessman by profession, but a chef by heart, Dipanjan has his hands dirty with photography and photoshop. He would spend all his day sleeping if he could, and makes the same resolution of losing weight every year(but to no avail) . Also has two daughters, which are actually dogs, but sshhh we don’t tell him that.

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