Directed by Roberto Berliner
Under the direction of Roberto Berliner, “Nise: The Heart of Madness” is a taut biographical drama based on the achievements of Dr. Nise da Silveira, a Brazilian psychiatrist who rejected aggressive methods such as lobotomy and electroshocks in favor of affection and art as therapies to recover her schizophrenic patients.
Actually, 'patient' is a word that Nise wanted to avoid. She preferred client because she and her team were there to serve them, not to oppress or punish.
In the early 40s, after spending a few years in jail due to political reasons, Nise (Glória Pires) returns to the filthy National Psychiatry Center located in Engenho de Dentro, outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. It’s not only the place that is somber, but also the insensitive doctors and nurses who work there. Immediately, she learns that lobotomy and electric shocks are common treatments in the site, being fiercely advocated by the condescending Dr. Cesar (Michel Bercovitch), a true example of arrogance in the medical class. The manager of the site, Dr. Nelson (Zécarlos Machado), is slightly more understanding but makes clear he won’t go against the adopted procedures, which grew more and more popular at the time.
Appalled and unable to follow these invasive and destructive techniques, Nise is relegated to the chaotic Occupational Therapy Wing. With the help of Ivone (Roberta Rodrigues), a caring nurse, and Lima (Augusto Madeira), a brute slacker turned tolerant ally, she will make a revolution in the sector, also thanks to the collaboration of Almir (Filipe Rocha), an art-lover who brought in the idea of painting sessions for the inmates.
Her ridiculed practices, which were approved by the master Carl Jung whom she corresponded with, also included daily contact with animals, namely stray dogs that were enthusiastically adopted by the schizoid patients. As expected, Nise’s success didn’t bring accolades from the envious colleagues, who continued to choose the ice pick instead of a paintbrush.
Despite the threatening and tense atmosphere, Berliner sweetens a few scenes that would be stronger without that type of dramatization. There’s a directorial overreaction that seeks to please the viewer by showing the positive side of the treatment, not only on the patients but also on the rest of the characters. For instance, the abrupt changing in Lima’s behavior feels phony. On the patients' side, Emygdio (Claudio Jaborandy)’s open speech before going home feels convenient and formulated. Not to mention the occupants' zombie-like walking, which was too dull and coordinated to be acceptable.
Even with all these reverses, “Nise” is a deeply humane story that everybody should know about. It depicts an important slice of history and advertises human dignity with positivism and pride.
Within an appropriate casting, Glória Pires gives an excellent performance as her broad smiles transpire the happiness of seeing those poor people doing better and the victories of her hard work.
The musical score by the cellist/composer Jacques Morelenbaum is employed to emphasize emotions whenever needed.