PARIS — “Le Mur,” or “The Wall,” a small documentary film about autism released online last year, might normally not have attracted much attention.
But an effort by French psychoanalysts to keep it from public eyes has helped to make it into a minor cause and shone a spotlight on the way children in France are treated for mental health problems.
The documentary, the first film by Sophie Robert, follows two autistic boys: Guillaume, who has been treated with the behavioral, or “American,” approach; and Julien, who has been kept in an asylum for six years and treated with psychoanalysis. Guillaume, though challenged, is functioning at a high level in school. Julien is essentially silent, locked out of society.
Ms. Robert said the version of psychoanalysis that is most prevalent in France, particularly the post-Freudian school championed by Jacques Lacan, takes it as a given that autism and other mental health problems are caused by children’s relationship with their mothers, or by “maternal madness.”
“Sometimes, when the mother is depressed, in utero, I mean when she is pregnant or at birth, sometimes the child can be autistic,” an analyst tells the camera in one scene. Another explains that autistic children “are sick of language — autism is a way of defending themselves from language"