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I love a film that makes you anxious because it could easily begin to slip up. Dirty Mind has that because its premise only suggest a number of likely outcomes, but writer/director Pieter Van Hees always plays with those expectations and keeps the characters as the real drives of the story.
Diego (Wim Helsen) and his brother are a stunt team that are hired for a new “gritty” TV show. For the first time Diego has to be the one to actually perform the stunt. It goes wrong and he hits his head, which leads him to the hospital. He ended up hitting his head so hard that he developed Frontal Syndrome. This is a condition that affects the frontal lobe of the brain that deals with personality. Diego used to be timid and shy, but after the accident he is without societal restraints. He has become “Tony T.”
Tony T. is a smooth and funny guy. He is always cracking jokes and trying out one-liners on women. He has no hesitation to try out even more dangerous stunts. His charisma and confidence makes the people around him enjoy his company more. The only one who has doubts is a neurologist named Jaana (Kristine Van Pellicom) who is begging to try this new surgery to cure him. As she continues to talk to him, there is a conflict on whether or not this condition isn’t an improvement on his life.
Once Tony T. emerged, I feared for the inevitable parallels to Flowers for Algernon but this story does a much better job of debating the condition. Unlike that story there is a smoother flow as the movie delves into the negative aspects of this condition. So many times it could have made things more black and white in order for the film to have an easier solution, but everything remained incredibly satisfying.
Through this process, there is a lot of humor and romance that makes this a very complete and impressive feature. It’s not easy to make an existential movie while constantly keeping it entertaining. A lot of that comes from Helsen’s magnificent performance that moves the story into new depths. This is especially true during his interactions with Jaana. She has dealt with Frontal Syndrome patients for most of her medical career, but Tony T. has to be articulate in a different way in order to convince her otherwise. It’s a difficult task that is accomplished through patience and smart writing. This is definitely one of the ones to catch at this year’s festival.