My Beautiful Broken Brain

A profoundly personal voyage into the complexity, fragility and wonder of the human brain, after Lotje Sodderland miraculously survives a hemorrhagic stroke and finds herself starting again in an alien world, bereft of language and logic. This feature documentary takes us on a genre-twisting tale that is by turns excruciating and exquisite - from the devastating consequences of a first-time neurological experiment, through to the extraordinary revelations of her altered sensory perception.

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  • ★★★★½ review by Marianna Neal on Letterboxd

    A fascinating, heartbreaking, inspiring, and beautiful documentary. If I could give Lotje Sodderland a big hug right now, I would. Never give up!

  • ★★★★ review by Jessica Noir on Letterboxd

    No. 15 - #52FilmsByWomen

    This film is fascinating and captivating and tells a brilliant story of survival and determination. I really appreciated the intimacy of the scenes filmed by Lotje herself and also the professionalism and creativity of many of the film's shots in other scenes. Overall it was a very good and interesting watch.

  • ★★★★½ review by tori on Letterboxd

    “anything can happen at any time to any degree. so… i better not have faith in anything."

    this movie hit really close to home for me - like Lotje Sodderland, i love reading and film and i have boundless ambitions for the future. in middle school, i started having sudden shock-like spasms (i called them zaps).

    they were eventually diagnosed as epilepsy one night almost exactly a year ago, when i fell and temporarily lost my vision and subsequently had a grand mal seizure that caused me to lose around 7 hours of memory, even though my mother tells me i was walking and talking for some time during that period.

    thankfully, the medication i've been taking ever since has prevented any further spasms or seizures. but the fear that i might suddenly lapse again is always there, and as such i identify deeply with the loss of control and self in My Beautiful Broken Brain. losing my memory and losing my memory the night of my seizure shook me to my core, and seeing that feeling reflected in Lotje's recovery process struck a chord in me.

    i know that this isn't so much of a review as it is a personal essay but this documentary feels personal to me, although what i've gone through is minor compared to the brain injury Lotje suffered. however, i've also lived in fear of my own brain - in fact, i still do. My Beautiful Broken Brain captures that emotion perfectly, while still managing to find hope and humour in a dark situation. i love it for that (and yes, i did start crying when the film dealt in detail with her seizure).

  • ★★★★ review by Ray on Letterboxd

    Another one of those lightly watershed-esque movies for me, where I realized the more profound meaning behind words I've read (and personally used) and found incredibly apt but don't know I entirely wrapped my mind around. I've had words for very directly literal visual representations of things ala mental illness or psychedelia before and I've definitely said things to the effect of it being "too straightforward," or likewise took to task visual stuff intercut in interviews literally just explicating what the person talking is saying.

    Watching this movie, then, there's a dichotomy at play; indeed, there are essentially two movies going on here, befitting its two directors. One half is a solid doc, bolstered by a legitimately fascinating and magnetic subject in Lotje but something where it's loath to let you be in the lurch. It feels like the movie a fairly new documentarian would make, one indebted to documentary convention and not quite so deep into their career that they've gotten to the place where they iterate on the convention in a full-bodied way. I will say that even then it does have those interesting choices -- talking heads frequently break visual continuity, outright sometimes having their body face one direction and their head the other, for one -- but in kind it's the kind of movie that would attempt to grasp the inner mind of a woman who has had a stroke by frequently cutting to people who know her talking to her.

    What that results in, what links back to my original point here, is that this movie bears some kinda garish color correction and lensing in some shots, shots of books have ruthlessly jumbled words, a lot of busy layered audio to represent aural overload, shots of Lotje sitting still and moving slowly as the world around her moves quickly. These things aren't enormous crimes, really, but they're not only visually highly cliched, they're used so inertly initially. They come in the time when the movie is outlining the effects of Lotje's stroke on her sensory projection, things she's explaining through narration, usually in talking head, which will cut to a shot just walking around London streets where half of the screen looks really saturated, or a shot of a book with the letters bouncing around every which way. There's common wisdom that every shot should serve a purpose in a movie. These things further clarify that: one purpose is the absolute bottom baseline a shot should strive for, and if that's all it's going to attempt it better do it pretty vitally.

    The other movie in this movie, though, is what makes it exceptional. The other movie comes borne of Lotje herself, who gets a co-direction credit outright. She films much of her recovery and the moments of downtime with her iDevices and there are lengthy stretches of the film, maybe the majority of the movie, where it feels wholly in her hands and in those moments it attains a hell of a grandeur. Her framing choices are constantly intriguing without being forcefully so (multiple times she shoots a selfie video in a bathroom seemingly intentionally catching her phone filming herself in the mirror behind her; why? who knows), the editing in sections that feel dominated by her footage and control take on a curiously sedate but bizarre rhythm, which combines with narration almost seeming to work primarily lyrically, getting the music of her thoughts out in words that get the closest to making sense as she can. In Lotje's hands, this movie's pacing gets completely nuked in the absolute best way, days pass like weeks pass like months.

    It probably doesn't even need saying, but in Lotje's hands this movie actually takes on new forms, new filmmaking shape, befitting a mind which is itself learning language again. It reminds me of the documentary from a few years back, Maidentrip (one of my favorite movies fwiw), where there Dekker largely directs the movie and her use of visual language evolves throughout it as she comes of age herself. In Lotje's hands, crude shorthand (that I have to imagine she herself had a huge guiding hand in developing, I'll admit) for her visual and auditory hallucinations become more interesting and layered, they intrude upon scenes that have nothing to do with them in strange and inventive ways. A version of this film that were willing to go as far down into the abyss as Lotje herself did, which weren't so dedicated to being a consumable piece of work, would probably be a masterpiece. The one that came about through this collaboration is still pretty damn great.

  • ★★★½ review by Ay Vn on Letterboxd

    I like her raw footage.

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