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Insanity seen from the inside

Days of Madness
Regissør: Damian Nenadic
(Kroatia og Slovenia)

Damian Nenadic's first full-length documentary is a blatant revelation of the stigma associated with mental illness in Croatia, told through the protagonists' own footage.


"Why is borderline personality disorder classified as a disease, while nationalism is not? Or transphobia? ”This question is asked in Damian Nenadics' full-length debut film, Days of Madness (2018). The documentary shows how mental disorders in Croatia are exacerbated by severe social stigma and a lack of community-oriented treatment methods.

The film's protagonists, Mladen and Maja, have for many years been fighting their mental disorders. They strive to build more enduring and meaningful lives, faced with minimal support and understanding from their own families and a public health service that is unable to meet their needs. By focusing on the realities of their everyday lives, rather than on authorized "experts" who deal with "official versions", the film helps to give Mladen and Maja value as spokespeople for their experiences. At the same time, the film is catchy and observant enough not to shy away from the more disturbing aspects of their painful instability.

over Medication

The list of a flood of prescribed drugs is constantly appearing as a kind of chorus. Whether it's sedatives like Rivotril, Lorsilan and Normabel, antipsychotics like Seroquel and Prazine, or antiepileptic drugs like Tegretol – the name of the drug is like a magical spell for help. However, the imperviousness of the brand names and their endless combinations suggests a system that feeds the population with pills for superficial cushioning of their symptoms, rather than providing the resources needed to actually make them healthier. The volume of prescribed medicines is alarming, and although no statistics provide a reliable picture of whether over-medication is a problem in Croatia, indications suggest it is.

A system that feeds the population with pills to superficially reduce their symptoms.

Maya's teeth fall out (something her dentist blames for antipsychotics), poison-based hepatitis has caused liver failure, and she needs immediate weaning. The dramatic physical side effects Maja has been exposed to as a result of the medication, suggests that whole the well-being of the individual is of little interest to the authorities, who prefer the simplest – but risky and physically exhausting for the person concerned – available methods of social control.

Catholic Patriarchate

Days of Madness argues that the patriarchal and Catholic thought patterns of Croatian society imply that internal aspects of identity and potential treatment are miscategorized as "causes" and "destructive forces". This throws the vulnerable protagonists into a confusing and disgraced descriptive crisis – which greatly exacerbates their ailments. For example, Maja has been told by a doctor that her borderline personality disorder, which she has had since she was seven years old, is due to her transgender identity.

Furthermore, it has been suggested that Mladen, who is now 43 years old, is possibly schizophrenic. It is claimed in the film that it was under the influence of the sin-oriented religion that his current trauma stretched out of control. He served in the Yugoslav National Army in the early 1990s – returning home with depression and insomnia. His mother persuaded him to discuss the issues with a priest rather than with a doctor. He slept with a picture of Saint Aloysius over the bed for decades, and was inspired to engage in self-flagellation in an attempt to cleanse himself of the feelings of guilt and impurity. Mladen confronts the priest with his claim that "psychiatry is a temple of Satan". The priest stubbornly denies having said such a thing, but at the same time does not understand how a doctor could drive out a demon.

Days of Madness puts a necessary focus on the question of who defines "normality".

Days of Madness is not designed as a rejection of any belief system per se, rather it shows how non-conformist outsiders can deal with the pressures of rigid codes of conduct they are subjected to as a result of indisputable ideologies they are born into, and how they can resist the social erasure of parts of itself. Nevertheless, the film puts a much-needed focus on the question of who defines "normality", and with what agenda.


Footage from a therapeutic workshop led by Croatian actor Leon Lucev, in which the film's protagonists also participate, seems to offer empathically based tools for self-affirmation. It is unclear how accessible these more progressive treatment methods are to anyone who may benefit from them, one gets the feeling that it has been implemented as part of the film project, but Days of Madness ends with a strong touch of hope.

Mladen confronts the priest with his claim that "psychiatry is a temple of Satan".

We take the country road with the couple, and cross the border into Slovenia, to the opening of the Museum of Madness, a private foundation in a former psychiatric hospital. It is designed to rethink the concept of "madness", remove the taboos that surround it and contribute to de-institutionalization. Mladen and Maja hang their own photographs and drawings from the workshop on the walls of the museum and in that way claim membership in the history of society. Then they introduce their lecture, entitled "My story about psychiatry in Croatia, and how I got healthier". In this participant program, film also serves as part of a valuable therapeutic journey and a basic affirmation of the value of human differences.


Nenadic avoids the hallmark of speculative sensationalism, which is often a problem with films entering the corridors of psychiatric hospitals. He does this by leaving the camera to his protagonists, so that they can convey what they want to show. The recordings are technically amateurish, but precisely for that reason a feeling of something raw and unprocessed is added. Through the editing, they are made a holistic point of view of all aspects of the human psyche, and the result is an optimistic narrative of recognition and improvement.

Carmen Gray
Carmen Gray
Gray is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.

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