Irish Film Review: Meetings With Ivor


DIR:  Alan Gilsenan

Alan Gilsenan’s latest documentary feature, Meetings With Ivor, explores the dynamic and controversial career of Ivor Browne, one of Ireland’s most anti-establishment and progressive psychiatrists. Populated by a cast of some of Ireland’s most celebrated, and infamous, artists, including Tommy Tiernan, Nell McCafferty and Sebastian Barry, Meetings With Ivor is at once personal and national in its visionary scope of the Irish psychological and cultural landscape.

Meetings With Ivor is as cinematically striking and experimental as it is thematically pertinent. Deftly structured in both form and editing, the film negotiates the fraught arena of mental health and its concomitant exposure and representation in mainstream media with a real ethical honesty and transparency. The visual experimentalism of the film, which places Ivor in split screen opposition to the various patients and friends who are shown throughout, offers a visual field that is at once equalising in its representation of the doctor-patient divide (although this binary definition is strongly eluded in Ivor’s ethos), as well as emotionally distancing for the audience, who are placed in a position of active engagement and reflection. The film’s stylisation refuses to dictate the audience’s emotional responses to Ivor and his subjects; they are literally placed within a blank white frame, side-by-side, creating a continuous and fluid sense of equal interaction that denies mediation by a manipulating cinematic eye.

In a particularly veracious scene, Nell McCafferty turns the hierarchies of talk therapy on their head, and begins to critique and analyse Ivor in what becomes a humorous inversion of the traditional relationship between omniscient doctor and vulnerable patient. Ivor’s willingness to engage with this inversion, his playfulness and openness to McCafferty’s highly personal, albeit jovial assault, reveals many facets of his personal and professional character. Ivor admits at several points throughout the documentary that he was complicit first hand in a litany of psychiatric atrocities committed upon patients in Ireland, including asylum institutionalisation, electric shock therapy and lobotomy procedures. His willingness to speak about his involvement in the dark past of Ireland’s negotiation of mental illness, as well as his criticism of its present shortfalls, confirms him as a man committed first and foremost to his patients and their recovery over any professional or institutional affiliations. He mischievously recalls his experiments with LSD in California, and bringing marijuana back from the US to grow in his home in Ireland. He also admits to his personal shortcomings as a father, the breakdown of his marriage and his second partner, continually situating himself within a dialogue of openness, reflection and humbleness.

We see Ivor alone in many visually minimalist scenes in meditative contemplation, seated on a chair in the centre of an enormous and empty white-washed room. The details and contours of his face are revealed in striking close ups that show a man aged, vibrantly resilient and wholly human. He admits toward the film’s close that he has always thought that he resembles a monkey. Ivor’s boyish charm and playfulness, his humility and honesty, continually inflect and offset what is at times a deeply harrowing insight into mental illness in Irish society. The cultural, social and generational divides that Ivor’s career traverses speak of a man whose unconventional medical practices and beliefs are unconditionally grounded in the human. He has asserted that ‘the future of mental health must lie in the empowerment of the person,’ something that our culture and our health legislation continue to belie. We need more practitioners like Ivor, and we need more films like this.

Naomi Shea

81 minutes

Meetings With Ivor is released 10th February 2017





‘Meetings with Ivor’ Opens @ IFI

Following three sell-out screenings as part of a collaboration with mental health arts festival First Fortnight, Meetings with Ivor will open at the Irish Film Institute from Friday, February 10th. The IFI welcome back director Alan Gilsenan and Ivor Browne for a sold-out opening night screening and Q&A.

Produced by Tomás Hardiman, Parzival Productions, and funded through the Sound and Vision Scheme of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, Meetings with Ivor is a documentary on the life and work of ground-breaking psychiatrist Ivor Browne. Browne has been a central figure in Irish mental health for many decades. His pioneering and often controversial work on behalf of the many who cannot speak for themselves is well-known.

Alan Gilsenan’s new film captures the essence of this extraordinary man. In a quirky and challenging cinematic portrait we meet Browne, now in his late-eighties, who is still full of energy, good humour and compassion, and who remains a deeply-informed, startlingly innovative thinker. His unique attributes continue to find vital expression and offer real hope in an increasingly bewildering world. The film contains contributions from a host of familiar faces including Tommy Tiernan, Tom Murphy, Mary Coughlan, Sebastian Barry, and Nell McCafferty.

Tickets for the Q&A on the evening of February 10th have sold out. Tickets are now on sale for two additional screenings (without Q+As) on February 10th at 13.15 and February 11th at 18.00. Showing times and tickets for all other screenings will be available on Monday, February 6th from or by calling the IFI Box Office on 01-6793477. 

Meetings with Ivor was previously screened as The Wonder Eye.