The inspirational story of Nise da Silveira, who waged a passionate fight in Brazil to change attitudes about how to treat the mentally ill, is told dramatically in “Nise: The Heart of Madness,” directed by Roberto Berliner. The doctor is played dynamically by Glória Pires, who captures her determination to prove her concepts right.
The doctor is appalled when she joins a mental hospital and finds lobotomies and electroshock treatment the order of the day in 1940s. She believes that occupational therapy makes more sense and is more humane. Bucking the system, she discovers that mentally ill patients can find expression through painting, and she is amazed at some of the results. So is a prominent art critic, and this leads to an exhibition that proves the point.
We see some of the gravely mentally ill who improve under Dr. da Silveira’s care, and we see the hostility on the part of entrenched doctors who see her as a threat and try to sabotage her work. Da Silveira gives her patients as much free rein as possible despite the danger of destructive outbursts. But she doesn’t waiver in her view that patients should be treated as human beings and not as asylum inmates who can be calmed by destroying part of their brains in surgery. We witness the depth of expressions of love they demonstrate when given pets to care for in their living quarters.
Thus the film dramatizes fascinating experiments, and at the end we meet the real Dr. da Silveira at the age of 94, who has some charged comment. She died shortly thereafter in 1999. The film stands as a monument to her ideas, courage and correctness. A Strand Releasing release. Reviewed April 28, 2017.