Jean-François Boisvenue

NYCTOPHOBIAA vigorous search for light at the end of a dark tunnel

In this essay-documentary, brazen French-Canadian filmmaker Jean-François Boisvenue explores his lifelong battles with precarious mental health, brought upon by his childhood fears. His free-spoken narration is juxtaposed with hand-drawn animation projections that heighten the visual experience and a better understanding of his mental struggles.

At an early age, Jean-François spent most of his life in intensive medical care, plagued with insomnia and fears of the vacant nothingness of the dark. He was shipwrecked on a fantasy island, far from Earth and out in the far reaches of reality. In the medium of the audio-visual landscape, we are drawn into his own spiritual escape, his obsession with purity and a clouded outlook on life. Amidst the many fallbacks and struggles, his healing wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. 

Mental illness should not be frowned upon. As humans, we struggle with our own personal demons and cope in our own ways. Having suffered from depersonalization and derealization — a type of dissociative disorder that causes constant feelings of detachment from one’s body and becoming an outside observer— life and the universe suddenly held no meaning for him. With this, an unstable mind and frequent anxiety complicate his search for better days.

Jean-François’ self-diagnoses and consonant inner battles are an exhausting journey to hell and back. But in truth, there will always be a light at the end of a tunnel. Through the camera capturing the dark space surrounding Jean-François, his act of bravery in overcoming his fears is a testament to how much he has grown throughout the years. The animated light displays serve as a visual representation of his own feelings, which amplify the heightened emotions expressed. Perfectly portraying the clouded and erratic mind of Jean-François, casting light on what remained in the dark, and had since his childhood. 

Hiding in our own little corners of torment and despair, we cast ourselves away from reality and the people for whom we care about the most. We try to strengthen ourselves and stand on our own, not knowing that there will always be people around us who will join us in our journey. We find the strength to move forward from the people that hold dear in our hearts—our loved ones and companions. But going through the dark places we wouldn’t want to return to, that’s what makes us stronger. With every loss of hope, there is a string that pulls us back from the darkness and into the light. For Jean-François, he found the strength he didn’t know he had.

It’s essay documentaries such as this that give more warmth and personal strength to the artist, the subject, and the content of the story. It’s as personal as a written journal, a free-flowing form of thoughts and sentiments. Being able to comfortably share one’s life struggles is no small feat. It may have taken quite a while for Jean-François to accept his circumstances and heal from his wounds. With what feels like more of a one-on-one conversation with the subject, we do get an idea of how he feels with the way he presents himself on screen. This film is a reminder that an expression of one’s life struggles is a feat of strength that most people unlock in their own respective journeys.

Ralph Regis is currently a junior film student at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde in Manila, Philippines.