The 51-minute long documentary Icon depicts a psychiatrist and a mental institution located in the countryside of today’s Siberia. «Where is the human soul located? » asks the psychiatrist at the start of the film. Is it in the heart? Or the brain? Or somewhere else?
Large swathes of the film consists of long sequences where the camera is a fly on the wall whilst daily tasks and doings play out in the mental institution. The gaze on the patients is a hundred percent unsentimental – the mentally ill are neither idealised nor portrayed as sick in any way. During the sequences, the patients chat, or keep themselves busy by moving and verbalising the way we are used to seeing severely mentally ill people. In between, there are arguments and fights, and scenes where some of the patients assist the nursing staff in exercising violence and force could easily shock outside spectators.
The images from a 2010-Siberia are in themselves exotic. The buildings, the landscape, the clothes, the vegetation and machinery bear no resemblance to what we surround ourselves with in Norway today. The scenography is akin to Soviet Union images last witnessed in our 1980s social science books.
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