Touched with Fire – Review ***

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There’s nothing as crazy as two people in love – now imagine the people in question are ‘crazy’ as well. Written and directed by bipolar filmmaker Paul Dalio, and based on his own life and experiences, Touched with Fire gives an accurate portrait of bipolarity disorder, and its complicated relation with creativity.

Carla (Katie Holmes) is a frustrated poet who isn’t sure when things started going bad on her life. After a maniac episode, and accidentally interning herself into a mental health institution, she meets Luke, aka Luna, a poet-rapper who thrives on his condition, and uses it to enhance his art. They fall in love with each other, triggering the worse of their condition, and after being kept apart by the institution and their families, they manage to meet again and live as a couple. But as Carla gets pregnant and Luke gets more and more maniac, it seems like their dream to give free reign to their creative craziness can come with dire consequences…

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Predictably, the best of Touched with Fire are its acting performances. Holmes impresses, and Kirby still manages to look credible even in his most deranged moments, clearly taking a line or two from Bradley Cooper’s Silver Lining’s Playbook. But as for chemistry between them, we are just not so sure. As for the story, it just fails short of having the impact of Shine or Girl, Interrupted – filled with tropes, a dubious elegy of bipolarity as a creative gift, and a somewhat meh kind of ending, Touched with Fire can even come up as pretentious, throwing poetic sentences around and proclaiming them brilliant, because hey, we’re maniac and look at all these great artists who were also bipolar.

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And yet, the film is still enjoyable, and delicious in the eye thanks to the poetic cinematography of Kristina Nikolova and Alexander Stanishev. As it compares passion to mental illness, Touched with Fire questions what is it to be normal, and asks if isn’t it better to experience life on a high (even if that implies suffering the corresponding low), than to be a mild person that just doesn’t understand what is so great about Van Gogh’s Starry Night. The answer, up until the turning point of the second act, is that bipolarity is a creative gift and it must be cherished at all costs, even if that implies going against your family, society and, well, yourself.

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Funny at times, occasionally cringeworthy (no more voice over poetry, please), Touched with Fire is not likely to be as influential as the artists it dedicates itself to, but as a well directed, acted and filmed indie, it may be worth the watch.

Touched with Fire is now available for online rental on We Are Colony – https://www.wearecolony.com/touched-with-fire/film/

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.