Counting Down screens at the Spring 2022 New Jersey Film Festival on January 30 as part of the Short Film Program
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By Emily Ranieri
originally published: 01/27/2022
Screening at the New Jersey Film Festival, Oya Babaoglu’s Counting Down is a short film featuring a psychiatrist named Olivia in the late 1800s who has been promoted to be the head doctor of the city’s asylum. However, Olivia suffers from a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder called arithmomania in which she experiences the uncontrollable urge to count objects and actions. She decides to undergo treatment in secrecy at the asylum for a week in an effort to cure herself of arithmomania.
This film beautifully and realistically captures the mental exhaustion and frustration that comes with having obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. There are whispers of counting sequences in the background that persist throughout the entirety of the film, mirroring the never-ending thoughts of obsessions people inflicted with this disorder experience. The only way to quiet the voice of the obsession for Olivia is to count her actions and surrounding objects which is the compulsion. The film takes the viewer through Olivia’s treatment which includes purging the body of these harmful “toxins” causing the obsessions. The time period of the film was a very effective choice in showing the harmful techniques used by mental health professionals in the 19th century as well as showing how little people understood mental illness. Olivia must take laxatives, make herself vomit, and cut herself to purge these toxins from her bloodstream, highlighting the maltreatment of patients in mental hospitals and the misunderstandings of how mental illnesses work.
The visual tone of Counting Down is dark and features a lot of shadows. Perhaps this was to emphasize the period as well as the feeling of internal darkness people with obsessive-compulsive disorder experience. The cinematography was incredible in its use of minimal lighting and shadows which aided in the viewer’s immersion into the story and the time period. The incredible talent of the actor portraying Olivia also allowed the audience to be immersed in this story, as it was believeable and heart-wrenching.
Babaoglu was inspired to create Counting Down because of the notable work of mental healthcare workers and advocates during the 1800s when the film took place. People like Dorothea Dix, Helen Boyle, and John Galt advocated for the fair treatment of mentally ill patients as well as humane conditions in mental health facilities.
This film’s beauty is found in Oya Babaoglu’s attention to detail, not only in the way the story was told but also in how mental illness and obsessive-compulsive disorder are portrayed. The constant whispers of the counting sequences reflect the obsessions of a person with OCD. Particularly, the sequence where Olivia is counting the drawers is really reflective of the disorder; she stops on the fourth drawer which heightens her anxiety because her obsessive thoughts tell her that four is a bad and dangerous number. The fact that Olivia is a psychiatrist also gives an interesting angle to the story; she is firsthand experiencing the maltreatment of her patients which allows her to reflect on the validity of these practices.
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The fact that Counting Down takes place in the 1800s emphasizes how little mental illness was understood. However, there are definitely parallels between the perception of mental illness in the 1800s and the perception of mental illness in the 21st century which perhaps Babaoglu was also trying to address through Counting Down.
counting down screens at the Spring 2022 New Jersey Film Festival on January 30 as part of the Short Film Program! To buy tickets to see it click here.
The New Jersey Film Festival Spring 2022 will be taking place on select Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between January 28 and February 20, 2022. As a result of COVID our Festival will be a virtual one again this Spring. All the films will be available virtually via Video on Demand for 24 hours on their show date. More information is available here: https://newjerseyfilmfestivalspring2022.eventive.org/welcome