SXSW Review: Without Prescription | A Striking Journey of Healing

Director: Juliana Maite
Screenwriter: Marietere Vélez
Starring: Marietere Vélez, Gabriel Leyva, Carola García, Junior Álvarez, Mariana Monclova, and Yussef Soto
Cinematographer: Arturo Juárez

About a third of the way through Juliana Maite’s poignant film Without Prescription, a chilling touch by a stranger resurrects Olivia’s (Marietere Vélez) obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Olivia’s OCD manifests itself through an antagonizing voice in her head—persuading her to brush her teeth or spit frequently. And after a year of dormancy, her OCD is back stronger than ever, forcing her to result to desperate measures due to Olivia’s lack of health care. Just as she finds a solution to her problem, a newfound healing process intervenes any desire to resort to pills.

Without Prescription is a story about how the lack of healthcare can lead to dire actions by those who need help the most. When we first meet Olivia, it’s not at all apparent that she suffers from OCD or has once reached a place of hopelessness. In fact, director Juliana Maite treats her viewers to a family gathering and celebration in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico. It’s an effective start to this story about despair and healing because it builds a sense of wonder. How can someone with such a loving support system be driven to such desperation after all? It’s a great play on the idea that you never really know what someone is going through or what kind of mental state they’re in.

Courtesy of SXSW

As the story progresses, Olivia meets David (Gabriel Leyva), the local pharmacist’s son, who agrees to sell her pills. With problems of his own, David doesn’t appear to have the best judgement. But along his own journey of healing, he finds solace in his new acquaintance Olivia. Their growing alliance works, primarily, because Maite generates a convincing viewpoint of mental health issues from both the audience and characters’ perspectives. It also helps that Marietere Vélez (Olivia) and Gabriel Leyva (David) put on striking performances that demand sympathy.

The best part of this feature is that director Juliana Maite and screenwriter-actor Marietere Vélez never exaggerate OCD or resort to depicting it like other films do. In fact, they treat it as the life-altering condition that it is with a more imaginative yet subtle approach. It all works for the benefit of this script, as the creators use intrusive thoughts to disrupt Olivia’s day-to-day. More importantly, the filmmakers show that disorders aren’t just eradicated. Instead, they reveal how being in a state of absolute despondence [because of it] can be. As a result, investing into Olivia’s growth and well-being feels earned and easy to do.

Maite’s tasteful direction in Without Prescription is why this involved story works so well. She manages to build an intimate setting with such an obstructive disorder that it’s hard not to become immersed by Olivia’s healing process and her fight for mental freedom. Though the pacing leaves much to be desired, the methodical approach towards unraveling Olivia’s journey is effective enough to leave a lasting impression. Bravo to the cast and crew.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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