In his review in The National Stanley Kauffman makes an interesting comparison between Titicut Follies – that other great institution documentary – and Warrendale.
Last year we saw a documentary called Titicut Follies, made in a Massachusetts institution for the criminally insane, a picture that no doubt originated in a genuine impulse to expose oppressive conditions but that, I thought, began to get some gawking kicks out of showing them. I mention that picture only to assure those who saw it – or who wouldn’t see it – that Warrendale has not the slightest resemblance to it. It is not an expose, it is not a chamber of horrors. It is a union with some children who become very precious to us before the 100 minutes are up.
Through some form of kismet this post and my last post (Child of Rage) share the subject matter of child therapy. The back-to-back choices were by accident, but they allow for an interesting comparison. Whereas Child of Rage leans heavily on interviews, Warrendale eschews them completely. Instead the film crew encamps itself right beside the staff and patients of a Canadian therapy center. What plays out is a drama that vacillates between loud and quiet moments. Manic outbursts can erupt at any moment. Long “holding” sessions help return the calm, but for how long? The experience is immersive and exhausting. We don’t learn much about child psychology or methods for dealing with violent, emotional, adolescent tantrums, but we do feel the toll they take on the children and those trying to help the children.