CANNES, France - It took an international production starring a Puerto Rican and a Frenchman to bring the Native American tale "Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian" to the big screen.
The film, an English language one from French director Arnaud Desplechin, made its premiere Saturday at the Cannes Film Festival, where it's among 20 movies competing for the prestigious Palme d'Or.
It's principally a tete-a-tete between two men: the Blackfoot Indian Jimmy Picard (Benicio Del Toro), who's suffering from head trauma after serving in World War II; and an eager anthropologist and psychologist from France, George Devereux (Mathieu Amalric), who treats him at a Topeka, Kansas, military hospital.
"The film has one foot in Europe and one foot in America," Desplechin told reporters Saturday. The "A Christmas Tale" director shot the movie in the Midwest and on a Blackfoot reservation in Montana.
In the genre of psychotherapy films - from Hitchcock's "Spellbound" to David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" - "Jimmy P." is particularly faithful to the probing dialogue between patient and analyst. It's a case study of a film, adapted from Devereux's 1951 book, "Reality and Dream," that includes lengthy transcriptions of sessions. Desplechin said he wanted to grasp "the adventure" between the pair as they become friends while sifting Jimmy's memories for the roots of his pain.
Much of it rides on the chemistry between Del Toro and Amalric, both widely-respected, shape-shifting international actors. They operate, though, on very different rhythms, with Amalric's frantic energy contrasting with Del Toro's weary heaviness.
"I'm very impressed with Benicio as a person," said Amalric. "I thought: How can I use this, the fact that I'm deeply impressed?"
Del Toro, who said the two first met several years ago in Cannes, said that two actors either connect, or they don't. He identified with one quality of Jimmy, whose Indian name means "Everybody Talks About Him."
"Everybody talks about him," said Del Toro. "Everybody talks about me."
As for whether "Jimmy P." constitutes an American film, Desplechin said he sides with the festival's classification, which goes by director. But, he said, the film is ultimately about a transitional kind of nationality, and the friendship that blooms between a discriminated-against Native American and an immigrant doctor, both finding their way in a country foreign to them.
Said Desplechin: "It's the story of two men becoming American."