A film short on bipolar disorder brings awareness to mental health.
By Rachel Deal
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 3/2/22- Lisa Cazes and Alizee Falque are a duo of psychological awareness and cerebral mastering who are merging real life with story through the upcoming film short Up and Down.
I’m sitting in my living room for a chat with the two French artists battling the harsh reality of a post pandemic world in Los Angeles. They met during the Covid-19 outbreak, in the midst of financial crisis, and cultural upheaval. In many ways their story feels packed with relatability, tackling mental health, gender issues, and self-expression. In other ways, the creative pair seem on the fringe of new ideas and those ideas are currently being created through their film project. The film was written by Lisa Cazes and debuts actor Alizee Falque. The two bonded when they moved into a Los Angeles artist community and became roommates. Both battling their own mental health, they learned to process their journey together through this project.
This upcoming film portrays the life of a woman coping with bipolar disorder. And like both filmmaker and actor, the woman is an immigrant balancing that disorder with the difficulty of remaining state side. It follows her journey through the upheaval and challenges the audience to consider the psychology of the character. With two actors and a close-knit crew, they’re making headway through media platforms and crowd funding in order to bring the story to life. But this story is more than just a drama or a think piece. It’s a reality that has been lived and felt by scriptwriter, director, and producer Lisa Cazes.
Lisa Cazes was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2018 and has been living in that battle ever since. During an episode that spiraled her into a state of depression and ended in her hospitalization, Cazes had to pull from within herself to find balance. Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that involves episodes of mania, or heightened reality, followed thereafter with a depressive slump. In those states of mania Cazes relates that “you feel like Super Woman” but assures me that the depression to follow is just as darkly felt. The episodes are often long lasting, spanning from days, weeks, or even months, and each zenith and slump is felt in major contrast to the last. Her mother, who struggled with alcoholism, was also diagnosed with the disorder and Cazes reflects that each bipolar case is experienced differently. The writer-director-producer has earned a Masters Degree in Intellectual Property Law and has worked on multiple film projects including psychological thriller, High Desert, and black history documentary, Black Fruit Juice.
“A lot of people don’t get diagnosed because they don’t have that big manic episode,” Cazes elaborates. It is true that the disorder often goes unrecognized and under three percent of Americans live with the disorder. “Looking back on it, it made sense. It’s hard to see it in the moment. It took about four years for me to be diagnosed.”
In a beautiful string of happenstance, the new roommates not only shared French citizenship but actor Alizee Falque too was fighting her own mental health. Falque was diagnosed with ADHD and social anxiety disorder. She explains that she often finds her mind bouncing from subject to subject and she struggles to maintain focus. When she moved to the United States for a foreign exchange program, she experienced paralyzing anxiety. She did not speak the language and she was surrounded by strangers.
“When you take away all the pillars that you have and you have to start over out of nothing and you have nothing to fall back on, that’s when it revealed itself,” says Falque. She lived in that frenetic experience for years before recognizing it. Having been diagnosed last year, she looks back and reflects that it was “something very present in me that I didn’t know was there.”
Social anxiety from the outside may be unfairly associated with shyness or introversion, but it affects more people than realized. The disorder can catastrophize and reap havoc on the nervous system. It has been described by some as imitating the intense emotional trauma of surviving a car crash. Those experiencing the symptoms often internalize and deal with them quietly and without recognition, furthering the sense of isolation. While the threat of illness, war, and cultural adversity speckles our headlines, such an intense state of anxiety can feel like its own atomic bomb.
“In the US it was kind of like taking a mental health class,” the actor contributes. She maintains that resources like therapy and healthcare are crucial in establishing health and so many people have been unable to receive the help they need.
Cazes nods in agreement, “support system in general is so important.”
It’s worth noting that the two play off of each other naturally and conversing with them feels seamless. They tell me that their partnership has made sense, much like the right and left hand, each balancing the other. I’m caught thinking of the duality of their relationship.
Falque remarks, “we were able to bounce off each other and she’s like ‘this is not budget conscious’ and I’m like ‘this is not exactly character enough.’ We were able to find a balance.”
“We love the psychology of the characters,” the writer and director comments. “I want to create that safe space and that platform.”
Cazes tells me that she is an LGBTQ+ rights advocate. And actor Falque considers herself queer or non-binary. They explain that much of queer portrayal in films is loaded with cliché. “It’s all so fluid,” explains the actor who was assigned female at birth but has branched out in different ways. She currently presents feminine but assures me that she does not feel limited to the body. Acting has played a major role in her understanding of the material world, male, female, and beyond. “I went through the androgynous moment of wanting to be in between and now I just want to be playful.”
She further explains that acting helped her to see the “body was a vessel to a story, to a person, and not a definition of who the person is.”
Cazes agrees with the mentality and explains that someday she hopes to see these real life people portrayed more accurately and naturally within the story. Not all non-binary experiences are so obvious and there is a wide spectrum to pull from. Instead of writing scripts solely about the coming out experience or a queer experience, why not produce a queer character in a suspense film and allow the character to just be as is? To the scriptwriter, the importance is “show don’t tell.”
“There’s so many clichés in mind and it is still not accurate,” Cazes says. She’s referring to mental health, non-binary, and much of what we see in movies today. Cazes would like to explore the individual experiences and bring light to more accurate portrayals. She shares that the atmosphere of the film is very important to her. And since reality, psychology, and narrowing in on perspectives is her interest, she sees herself touching on more subject matter in various ways.
Falque remarks, “It’s important to be able to still listen.”
The struggle to launch this project has been felt by both Cazes and Falque, as they’ve fought for their health, their visas, and their financial support. Their filming will start in April and the project will be debuted this summer. The crowd funding approach to filmmaking is a new phenomenon that makes real life stories like Cazes’ possible. Instead of going through a major studio that may commercialize or simplify the character study, Cazes is offering a personal interpretation.
“It allows to bridge the gap between, ‘I don’t know this person, I don’t know this thing, and it threatens me,’ to stop looking at it like a concept and look at the human being behind it,” actor Alizee Falque explains.
Up and Down is certain to give people a relatable experience and the idea is to bring humor, drama, perspective, and hope to the audience. They’d like to eventually make this a feature length film and from there to become limitless in their approach to story telling.
“I was really really going up and down,” says Lisa Cazes. “If you have the right people around you, you can go through anything.” Alizee Falque nods in agreement.