Director: Sandra Nettelbeck
Screenwriters: Sandra Nettelbeck

Institute History

  • 2009 Sundance Film Festival


Featuring a riveting performance by the gifted Ashley Judd and infused with intelligence and detail by Sandra Nettelbeck, a storyteller who clearly knows intimately the parameters of this universe, Helen transcends the usual limitations that besiege portraits of mental illness and depression. In truth, for all that we’ve learned about depression—its causes, its cures, and the breadth of its affliction—the old clichés and stigmas still dominate our tales and popular culture. What Nettelbeck and her colleagues have accomplished is an unapologetically moving examination that offers no simplistic answers and refrains from reductively singular happy endings.

Helen focuses on a woman with an apparently perfect life: a successful academic, she seems happily married with a wonderful daughter. But we witness a sudden breakdown and a journey that is enigmatic and heartbreakingly real. When solutions prove elusive and Helen is hospitalized, she forges a relationship with Mathilda, a fellow traveler who both aids and traumatizes her life’s course. When death seems the only answer, and the safe haven of family gives no respite, the pain of bipolarity is exhausting and overwhelming. Told with poignancy and insight—and ultimately concluding with as much courage as inevitable sadness—Helen is the work of artists whose craft and sensibility are special.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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