Somewhere on Siberian, secluded province, there is an old, devastated building. Some of the windows are broken, bars are inserted into the others, the rooms are cramped and dilapidated. It is hard to imagine that anyone could live here. And yet, this is a hospital for mentally ill women, in which Wojciech Kasperski makes his latest documentary film, called Icon.
Although the name of this place seems unambiguous, in reality, there is a very large group of women with different problems, who exist here. Apart from people suffering from schizophrenia or depression, we can find here elderly women afflicted by Alzheimer's disease, serial murderers, girls for whom there was no place in an orphanage or youth correction centre or simply homeless women. This is not a hospital from which, after some time, a healthy patient goes back home, but a kind of asylum for the dregs of the society, for those whom nobody wants or needs. Although some of the patients could live outside the hospital, unfortunately most of them will remain there until the end of their lives.
In an extremely realistic way, Kasperski shows the inaccessible, difficult to understand, world of the isolated, ill women. We see their struggles with psychological problems, when they behave aggressively, unpredictably, as well as their everyday life, when they eat meals together, take medicines, celebrate birthdays. In spite of their hopeless situation and the illness, the younger patients have the need to feel attractive and feminine. We see how they put on their make-up, colour their hair, dance to the beat of disco music. They want to appeal to the men, who flirt with them over the fence. This is a small fragment of normal life, a form of rest from the madness around them. These women still dream about returning to the world outside, to their families and homes, they want "freedom," as one of the film's protagonists said. An interesting protagonist, who functions right next to them, is the old doctor who has been involved with this place for his whole professional life. We see how he talks to the patients, asking them how they feel, how he listens to their complaints and explains why their stay in the hospital is necessary. We also hear his voice from off screen, he wonders about the essence of the illness, about human nature. He asks the questions to which he will never find the answer.
Closed space, beds crammed side by side, pervasive screams, moans, all this creates extremely stuffy atmosphere. Kasperski made a very raw image, deprived of any embellishments, brutally real, from which, however, it is very hard to turn your eyes away. It is a poignant work of art, which, apart from authenticity, concentrates also on the unfathomable human psyche.