Latvia, 2014, 88 min, Dir. Signe Baumane
The 2014 film Rocks in My Pockets opens with a two-dimensional animated woman—the avatar of Latvian writer/director/animator Signe Baumane—pushing a three-dimensional papier-mâché rock up a papier-mâché slope. The clash of 2D and 3D is a powerful metaphor for the mental illness that has plagued multiple generations of her family: Delusions, fantasies, and depression can feel stronger and realer than their own identities.
Narrating in incongruously jaunty voice-over, Baumane digs first into the tragic story of her grandmother Anna, who despite her education and talent spent most of her life toiling on her husband’s farm, virtually imprisoned by her spouse’s jealousy. Baumane then turns to three of her cousins, creative and brilliant women who suffer from hallucinations and suicidal fantasies, before relating her own ongoing battle with an illness, perhaps schizophrenia, that seems to want her dead.
All of this sounds impossibly grim, but it’s surprisingly easy to watch, thanks to the nimble dance of morphing images. A woman who doesn’t desire her husband turns into a fish in his arms; a drug-addicted psychiatrist’s head transforms into a frog and slurps up pills; a personification of self-destructive desires, a cross between a faun and a snake, leers from the shadows. Anyone currently experiencing acute mental distress might consider skipping this one because of frank discussion of suicidal fantasies. But if you’re feeling up to it, Rocks in My Pockets is a gorgeous, witty elegy to those lost in the battle for sanity and selfhood.