13 Jan 2022
Maladroit and ill-informed, I Wish attempts to illustrate the ostensible character of depression
All too often young filmmakers flock to the subject of mental illness without fully grasping the social responsibility they have undertaken; Pakistani writer/director Haider Rifaat woefully falls into this camp with I Wish – a maladroit study of depression mired in misrepresentations and stereotypes.
Rifaat plays Ali Danyal, a twenty-something post-graduate – also suffering from a victim complex - engaged in listing all who have wronged him over the course of his life. There is plenty of room in the short’s nine-minute running time to discuss Pakistan’s mental health crisis within the context of its post-colonial identity – mental illness is criminalised to the point where attempted suicide is punished by a year’s imprisonment, a fine, or both. But this is drowned out by Danyal’s condemnation of unhelpful teachers and high school bullies, without homing in on any specific trauma.
As Danyal, Rifaat demonstrates scant understanding of depression: a cacophony of hair pulling and screaming at the mirror constitutes depressive behaviour which feels more like caricature, rather than a deft study of internal agony. It’s as if all the undergraduate misrepresentations of depression have combined forces in one big attempt to describe what this suffering looks like. These errors of judgement could perhaps be forgiven if it wasn’t for Rifaat’s irresponsible and, quite frankly, dangerous exhibition of suicide as some form of means to an end.
While Rifaat’s heart is firmly in the right place, his graceless and ham-fisted portrayal shows much work is yet to be done in the de-stigmatisation of mental illness. Too much time is spent attempting to elucidate the character of depression and how it is manifested, rather than illuminating the lived experiences of those who suffer from it.
But I Wish would be lucky if poor writing and problematic performance were its only problems. Each set piece is underpinned by tinny audio and blurry, uninspired cinematography which refuses to contribute anything meaningful to the narrative; there is an exiguous inclination to shoot Danyal in focus and a near-experimental tendency to frame him off-centre. This effort is admirable – considering it has been achieved without an auxiliary crew – but not enough to save I Wish from complete despair.
There is a lesson to be learned here: a filmmaker should always consider the responsibility they bear when opting to represent the lived, traumatic experiences of those who cannot represent themselves.