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Touched With Fire (2015)

Lionsgate
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/7/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/8/2016

In my recent review for Kill Your Friends, I wrote about how movies can teach us about specific jobs. I also wrote that we shouldn't take everything that we see in movies as gospel. On a similar note, films can also show us how individuals with specific circumstances live their lives. This can be people who live in a certain place, practice a particular religion, or in the case of the movie Touched With Fire, have a specific medical condition. As with many other things in the world, medical problems can offer certain stereotypes and ways to easily pigeonhole people. Touched With Fire attempts to avoid these things and give us a different view, one which comes directly from the director.

Carla (Katie Holmes) is a passionate woman who loves poetry. She has published a book of poems and she likes to read in front of an audience. She also has difficulty sleeping and has periods where she can't stop talking. Marco (Luke Kirby), who likes to go by the name "Luna", also enjoys poetry, as well as creating graffiti which contains moon shapes. The electricity has been cut off in his apartment, but he doesn't mind. Carla and Marco both have Bipolar Disorder (296.0), a psychiatric condition in which the patient experiences periods of heightened emotion and energy, followed by stretches of depression and lethargy. When Carla visits a clinic to review her medical records, Dr. Strinsky (Maryann Urbano), convinces her to sign in for observation. Meanwhile, Marco is brought to this same facility following an arrest. The two meet and, at first, there is friction between them, but they soon begin to have late-night rendezvous in which they feed into each other's mania. Following their release, Carla and Marco find one another, and attempt to have a relationship. But, do they have too much in common?

When I'm not writing movie reviews (when is that exactly?), I work in the behavioral health field. As with many people who work in specific professions, I cringe when I see counselors and psychiatrists portrayed in movies and on televisions, as it's rarely accurate. For Touched With Fire, Writer/Director Paul Dalio brought his own personal experiences with bipolar disorder to the project, and this certainly helps to lend an air of realism to the film. The behaviors of the characters rings true at times and the look of the treatment facility doesn't fall in line with the typical institution which we see in movies. Having said that, there were some moments which I didn't quite buy. While it's true that the symptoms of bipolar disorder can mimic those of a psychotic disorder and the patient can appear to be out of touch with reality, there were times when Marco's behavior almost painted him as someone with limited cognitive abilities. Also, the movie certainly shows that the high highs are often matched by low lows, but it didn't explore this enough.

But, how will the movie play with those who aren't familiar with mental health treatment? My fear is that it won't play well. While it's admirable that Dalio has tapped his own life story for this movie, my concern is that he doesn't dig deep enough into this tale. The characters are but thumbnail sketches, and they are more defined by their manic behaviors than by who they really are. We learn a little about each character, but there are still many questions left unanswered. Also, I'm not sure if the movie does enough to explain bipolar disorder. I can see the uninformed simply labeling Marco and Carla as "crazy" and not truly understanding what is happening here. In his attempt to portray this illness, Dalio has created a "slice of life" film which shows how Marco and Carla attempt to navigate a "normal" life. The result is a movie which tries something different, but there isn't a lot of story here.

I don't know if Dalio was intentionally attempting to mimic bipolar disorder, but the movie certainly has its ups and downs. While the movie's goal is to accurately portray the life of someone with this diagnosis, some of the scenes run together and become redundant. However, I must say that the finale is well done and really packs a punch. But, this is followed by a coda which wraps things up a bit too nicely. Also, the film carries a message that being manic should be viewed as a gift which can fuel creativity. While I won't argue with that, I will say that this may encourage some to stop their meds, which can be dangerous. While it is flawed, Touched With Fire should be applauded for bringing bipolar disorder into the spotlight.

Touched With Fire must owe Van Gogh money in some way on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good (as the film features some bold tones) and the image is never overly dark or bright. The image is rarely soft, showing nice detail, and the depth is acceptable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mpbs. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The in-film music sounds fine and never overpowers the dialogue. The stereo effects show nice separation and detail. The surround effects aren't overwhelming, but they work well in the crowd scenes.

The Touched With Fire Blu-ray Disc contains a few extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Paul Dalio and Producer/Director of Photography Kristina Nikolova. "Making of Touched With Fire" (9 minutes) contains comments from Dalio and the creative team who talk about the story and the themes, as well as the look and feel of the film. We then hear from Holmes and Kirby who talk about their characters. This contains some on-set footage, as well as production stills. "A Conversation with Paul Dalio and Dr. Kay Jamison" (5 minutes) focuses on Jamison's work and her view on the creative potential of those with bi-polar disorder. (She also appears in the film as herself.) We get one DELETED SCENE which runs about 2 minutes and contains a character which I don't remember seeing in the finished film. The extras are rounded out by a PHOTO GALLERY and a TRAILER.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long