Review: Happy Pills – Cineuropa

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– The documentary by Arnaud Robert and Paolo Woods is a journey into the world of pharmacy and the globalized obligation to be happy thanks to a pill

What is happiness? This question that religion and philosophy have asked themselves over the centuries has evolved, in modern times, into “can happiness come in a pill? to which the science of Big Pharma offers an immediate, direct and devastating answer, and to which governments have only weakly contested, while the media makes happiness a duty rather than a right. And it is this question that is at the root of Happiness Pills, a documentary by the Swiss director Arnaud-Robert – who already has three other documentaries to his credit – and Paul’s wood – a Dutch-Canadian photographer devoted to investigative journalism – which had its world premiere at the Festival dei Popoli in Florence.

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In order to deepen the globalized obligation to be happy, Happiness Pills embarks on a journey through 6 different countries, bringing together stories that give context to the original question. The film opens in the slums of Bombay, where young bodybuilders take steroids to compete. But it soon moves to other continents, starting with our home in Switzerland, one of the three ‘happiest’ countries in the world, where one in four people will seek treatment for depression at least once in his life. Here we meet patrick who uses sertraline and quetiapine to combat his suicidal tendencies and is endlessly admitted and discharged from a mental hospital, where other drugs are used to stabilize his incurable sadness and make his reality bearable. The pharmaceuticals that killed millions in the West have now found their way to the world’s poorest countries: Alzouma is a young Nigerian who takes Tramadol – a powerful painkiller sold on the street, which has replaced the traditional infusion of tree bark – in order to work without getting tired the countless daily hours that are required of him. In Massachusetts, meanwhile, a teenager To add turns to Adderall and Ritalin to treat his attention deficit disorder (a diagnosis received by 10% of young people in the United States), because his mother does not want his school work to be as horrible as his uncle Jay.

This journey in search of happiness continues via Husbandsa young man from Tel Aviv, who wants to fully live his homosexuality without fearing AIDS, and whose ritual, every morning, is to take pre-exposure prophylaxis (Preparation) pills. For him, Preparation is as close to “peace of mind” as possible, even if the doctor explains that the good old condom is still the best line of defense. Another medicine for happiness, or rather for freedom, is “the pill”, par excellence: the contraceptive. Our documentary follows Yurica, a young woman from the Peruvian Amazon, who injects herself with contraceptives so as not to fall pregnant again while raising her four children alone, in a country where the (dangerous) concept of the “natural method” still dominates, and where, traditionally, , men are not held responsible for children. Our pharmaceutical tour ends with a French intellectual called Louis, who suffers from pancreatic cancer, opts for assisted suicide in Switzerland and is then injected with Pentobarbital. This is an example of someone who has lived a happy life and would prefer an equally serene and conscious end.

Adopting a traditional approach, and at the edge of a classic investigation, the camera lens of Robert and Woods scans the faces of the protagonists of these stories, in search of a sign explaining their abuse of anxiolytics, antidepressants, sleeping pills and opioids, which heal human wounds. It’s a non-judgmental cross-sectional journey, all too aware that we’re all looking for chemical answers to an existential question. Their brief comments – rather than actual sentences – express their concern for a world dominated by the fear of failure and the pressure to succeed, where adolescence is seen as a disease, and where looking happy and actually being happy does not are one and the same.

Happiness Pills is produced by the Swiss company Intermezzo Films in co-production with the Cellule Films Documentaires de la RTS, SSR-SRG and ARTE GEIE International sales are entrusted to Lightdox.

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(Translated from Italian)

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