Over the course of four years, Montreal filmmaker Kalina Bertin sought answers to her family’s history of mental health issues, particularly the dangerous manic episodes exhibited by her sister, Felicia, and her brother, Francois Sean. What begins as a search for answers and healing takes a darker turn when she starts looking into the past of her father, George. What she uncovers about George and his mysterious past in Hawaii as the leader of a cult-like group known as “The Significants” not only answers some of the questions she had about her siblings, but raises new questions about what kind of man her father truly was.
Manic is the kind of documentary that a filmmaker can’t jump into and have a planned out idea of where things are going to head. The first half of Bertin’s film does find her trying to aide and support her siblings the best way she knows how, and interviews people who had intimate knowledge of her father’s past lives. But then, Manic builds to a revelation about George that some might see coming, but I doubt any viewer could predict, sending things out on a chilling personal note.
As a depiction of mental illness, Bertin’s Manic is a warts-and-all take, and she refreshingly steers clear of getting directly involved with any professional therapy her siblings are undergoing (which is a major stumbling point for most mental health docs even at their most well meaning). But when Manic switches gears, it’s an abrupt change. It’s not a bad change, just an abrupt one that will take viewers on a trip that might be harder to comprehend on any human level than mental illness.