The annals of documentary film are packed with movies that are formally rudimentary or even threadbare, but contain stories so compelling that they command a regard beyond what the film’s presentation accords them.
“That Way Madness Lies …,” directed by Sandra Luckow, begins with my least favorite “here is a personal chronicle” gambit: The director narrates over views of the mountaintops of the Pacific Northwest, where she grew up.
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But Luckow is more than entitled to present this story in a mode she’s comfortable with. The filmmaker, who in her college years shot an early documentary of the later-to-be-disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding, tells us here about her brother, Duanne. For a short period in their youth they were thick as thieves. With a mere 13-month age difference, Duanne, an intrepid photographer and videographer, inspired Sandra on her life path.
But in adulthood his mental health began crumbling, and his actions brought Sandra and her family not only emotional trauma but financial ruin. Patiently, using interviews and footage shot by Duanne himself at various levels of incapacity and paranoia, this film lays bare how the American health care system seems designed, at every level, to fail the mentally ill and those who try to be of genuine service to them.
It does so with such credibility and coherence that the movie’s very plain style and Sandra Luckow’s occasional Candide-like displays of naïveté as a player in this story — “Duanne had stopped cc-ing me on his emails, and he was absent from social media,” she narrates late in the movie, “so I suspected there may be something wrong” — don’t matter at all. If this is a subject matter that has touched your life even minimally, you ought to see this movie.