Sibyl Distinguishes the Difference Between Self and Reality

October 14, 2020 | Joanna Kwiat

Illustration by Caroline Logue

Sibyl, the latest from French director Justine Triet, won Best Film at the Seville European Film Festival and was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The film explores the struggle between reality and fiction as a psychotherapist oversteps her boundaries for personal gain. 


Sibyl (Virgine Efria) is a psychologist who drops all but a couple patients as she decides to return to her writing career to begin a new novel. Struggling with the consequences of an excess amount of time while trying to figure out how to begin her new work, Sibyl’s frustration meets an end with an unexpected call from a desperate actress. Margot (Adele Exarchopoulos) reaches out to Sibyl not looking for therapy, but to receive an external point of view towards a life-changing decision. Pregnant with her co-star Igor’s (Garpard Ulliel) child, she fears that if she chooses to abort the baby, her career may be jeopardized since he was the one who landed her the role. The situation becomes more dire as we find out that Igor is dating the movie director Mikaela (Sandra Hüller). Using this complicated story as inspiration for her novel, Sibyl finds herself wrapped up in her patient’s life and begins to record their sessions privately.  

Along with being a therapist, Sibyl is also a recovering alcoholic who spends time attending group recovery meetings. She states her recovery is going well as she compares being drunk to the intoxication she feels when writing, mentioning that the latter is safe because “words are the drug.” This early scene foreshadows what’s soon to come: the consequences of her writing have just as much of a debilitating, destructive effect on her life. Gradually she projects her addictive temperament to her novel, becoming more and more obsessed with Margot’s life. 

Illustration by Caroline Logue

Through flashbacks of Sibyl’s past, Treit highlights the utter complexities of life and identity. By delving into her backstory, the viewer is able to understand more of who she was and how far along (or not) she has come from a rocky relationship with her sister, arguments with her own therapist, and participating in a passionate yet destructive romance with Gabriel (Niels Schneider). Balancing the various characters she has within herself while distinguishing from the characters in her new story becomes even more difficult as she entangles herself further into the life of her patient when she follows Margot to an island shoot amid Margot’s breakdown.

Tensions arise offset and onset as Margot refuses to listen or converse with anyone unless through Sibyl. With a rising exasperation stirring in Mika as her actors are unable to elicit passion on screen, she eventually jumps out the boat plummeting into the water. Sibyl seamlessly takes form as the director, bringing her perverse fixation on her “characters” into reality by guiding them through the scene, unable to distinguish between storytelling and human interactions. 


The film stems on manipulation 一 how every person manipulates and, in turn, is manipulated by those around them. Sibyl makes you reflect on your own self and the multitude of relationships we encounter, wondering which, if any, is a fabrication from the realities of our world. Treit alludes to the theme in two separate scenes where both Margot and Igor mention the masking and unmasking of themselves. Everyone plays the role of an actor within our own fictional lives, whether we realize or not, wearing different personas depending on our audience. Efria conveys the multitude of personalities Sybil carries throughout the film through subtle yet powerful changes in expression, engaging the audience by allowing them to question her thoughts and motives. 

Blue and red are the two primary colors that dominate most scenes of Sibyl. The usual symbolism in blue to indicate tranquility, stability, and harmony contrasts the many heated arguments and moments of passion displayed simultaneously by the red. Red also elicits the power and control Sibyl possesses over her characters which bleeds out into Margot’s reality, emphasized when she takes on the role of director. Blue is also associated with introspection which is contradictory to Sibyl’s inability to reflect on her own self. “Stop analyzing her,” says her own psychiatrist. “You can’t even analyze yourself.”  


Although the overwhelming 一 and sometimes cliché 一 subplots can deviate from the main storyline, the seemingly chaotic and random insertion of asides reflect our own human brain and emotions. Sibyl illustrates that our own thought processes are rarely linear, and through her turmoil we are able to encounter the mess we call our lives.

© 2020 by Artistry Magazine.

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