Illness as a political weapon is the core concept behind the Socialist Patients’ Collective (SPK) in Heidelberg, Germany, and the basis for their psychotherapeutic techniques. Founded by Wolfgang Huber in the 1960s, the group believes the mentally ill are merely victims of capitalist systems, which they see as the cause of psychological pathology. SPK Komplex – written and directed by Gerd Kroske – is an intriguing, enlightening documentary about this fascinating and highly controversial organisation.
Consisting of proficiently assembled accounts by previous members of the SPK, as well as the radical terrorist Red Army Faction (contingents thereof allegedly associated with one another, although the SPK denies it) the film focuses on the movement at its most contentious and daring, during late 60s and early 70s. Huber and his followers claimed the collective’s only purpose was therapy; allegedly they were curing the sick. Using methods that defied traditional psychiatric models, he believed the ill needed to be understood and allowed to express their true nature. Abhorring institutional treatment, he saw it as alienating the afflicted from themselves rather than helping them; he referred to it as a “Nazi” system, which still employed doctors who had worked for Hitler.
Interviews are illuminating but uncontrived; very natural, they allow subjects full emotion, individuality, ambivalence and sometimes quirkiness. In terms of visuals, the work is expositional and well-conceived. Alternating with witness accounts are black-and-white photos of the time presented in slide show format, elements which highlight the past tense and otherness of the era. The condition of upheaval and experimentation in the lifestyles and methods of that period could characterise it as a unique epoch.
Despite Huber’s insistence that his goals were purely therapeutic, his strong Marxist, anti-capitalist, pro-violence, anti-government rhetoric; rumours of his RAF connections; his targeted patient-activist protests; and the SPK’s alleged possession of guns and explosives, resulted in their being labelled a criminal organisation, for which members were imprisoned.
A skilfully directed, informative, thought-provoking documentary, SPK Komplex provides an eye-opening revelation of a significant moment in political history.
SPK Komplex does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
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