A young woman offers a self-description that presents her life in the most glowing terms—telling us what we want to hear. The visual narrative tells a different story, illustrating with heart-rending power the weight of anxiety carried by this driven overachiever as she strives for happiness. The Great Malaise portrays the thoughts and worries of a person who suffers from anxious unhappiness. Approaching the subject in a way that’s both honest and personal, director Catherine Lepage departs from the intimate and arrives at the universal; the strange alchemy of art allows us to overcome pain, transforming it into an object of beauty that soothes and comforts. The film is a small miracle of sensitivity: evoking chaos with precision, it deftly shatters taboos about mental health and allows hope to bloom. Funny and touching at the same time, it is above all a deeply human film.
A young woman describes herself and her life in glowing terms, but the visual narrative tells a different story: with heart-rending power it illustrates the heavy burden of anxiety carried by this worried overachiever.
In the voiceover for this animated short, a young woman attempts to describe herself, casting her life in the ideal light that society expects. The film’s imagery, however, tells a different story, poignantly illustrating the intense anxiety that comes with the quest for perfection and the pursuit of happiness. A film that’s both funny and moving, and above all, profoundly human.
I am a multidisciplinary artist with training in graphic design and illustration. Early in my career I worked in advertising, initially on the technical side, then doing Photoshop touch-ups before moving on to a creative role. At the same time, I started illustrating books for young people written by others. It was an ideal way to make a living, but I also wanted to start projects of my own—to produce personal work. Unfortunately, despite all my efforts, I failed to find much inspiration; I felt like I had nothing (or at least nothing interesting) to say, and felt a lot of frustration. A few overworked and stressed-out years later, I was diagnosed with depression. It was a shock for me to discover that I wasn’t as invincible as I’d thought. Paradoxically, it was the challenge of facing depression that fired up my creativity and marked the beginning of my producing my own personal creative projects.
A few years later, I published my first illustrated book, chronicling my depression. I felt the need to transform this negative experience into something positive. To revisit this painful material and make something beautiful out of it. The book’s reception made me realize just how many people live through similar experiences in silence, and that the simple fact of my speaking openly about my experience brought comfort. Knowing that my work could help others, I continued to explore my darker side. In the following years, I published two more books, on the subjects of anxiety and unhappiness, following my intuition that my intimate personal experience would resonate with others. As I continued to receive appreciative feedback on these three books years after their publication, the idea of making a film came to me.
My creative work continues to follow the thread of my own introspection, the connections I make between my life and the experience of others, and my observations on the construction of identity and how much importance we place on how other people see us. To live in a society, you have to respect certain rules and adopt certain behaviours that you learn at a very young age. How far are we willing to go to be accepted as part of the group? What part of ourselves do we have to deny? Are our goals really our own, or are they goals society has conditioned us to value?
The Great Malaise speaks to how we can become derailed when our aspirations and goals become a source of anxiety and stress. We live in a world in which performance and success are hyper-valued. We often wish to project an idealized image of ourselves, highlighting our successes and hiding our failures. The race to make our dreams come true can exhaust us and make us realize we aren’t happy, even if we have achieved our goals. When we’re forced to take a break, it’s painful to have to face our failings, especially if we’ve tried to bury them.
Today, anxiety and depression are more widespread than ever, affecting people of all ages. It’s critical that we speak about them in order to de-stigmatize these experiences, because the people who suffer from them sometimes feel shame, see themselves as less worthy, or feel misunderstood and rejected. We must redefine the notions of strength and success, and create space for vulnerability, as well as grey areas. That’s why it was more important than ever for me to make this film, in order to reach an even larger audience.
A film by
Based on the books
12 mois sans intérêt (Mécanique générale)
Fines tranches d’angoisse (Somme toute)
Zoothérapie (Somme toute)
By Catherine Lepage
Sound Design and Musical Composition
With the voice of
Pierre Yves Drapeau
Marilène Provencher Leduc
“E Is for Estranged”
Written and Performed by Owen Pallett
Courtesy of Domino Recording Company
Licensing Courtesy of Domino Publishing Company of America Inc.
Technical Specialist – Animation
Nicolas Monette, Anne Paré and Marie Vaillancourt
as well as Simon, Léo, Madeleine and Yvonne Rivest
Senior Production Coordinator
© 2019 National Film Board of Canada