Ursula Meier’s searingly complex SHOCK WAVES: DIARY OF MY MIND is a fiercely intelligent piece of work that lingers long in the mind

It is often said that a teacher’s job to inspire their pupils. But what happens when a pupil claims to be “inspired” to commit a crime? Ursula Meier’s searingly complex SHOCK WAVES: DIARY OF MY MIND explores that very scenario in her dramatization of a real-life crime.

Set in 2009, SHOCK WAVES: DIARY OF MY MIND opens with high school student Benjamin Feller (Kacey Mottet-Klein) running into a local police station with a gun in his hand and promptly collapsing in a frantic state. It turns out that Benjamin has killed both his parents with his father’s pistol and has sent a full confession of the crime and his mental condition in the days leading up to it, in a journal addressed to his French teacher Esther Fontanel (Fanny Ardant).

Devoted to opening young minds, Madame Fontanel tasked her class with writing a personal journal, laying bare their innermost thoughts and feelings. But when Benjamin’s diary arrives in the post, Judge Mathieu (Jean-Philippe Ecoffey) – the examining magistrate responsible for gathering evidence in the case – clearly thinks Madame Fontanel is partly responsible for Benjamin’s crime by putting unhealthy ideas in his mind, implicating her in ways she could never have imagined.

Fanny Ardant and Kacey Mottet-Klein in SHOCK WAVES DIARY OF MY MIND

Filmed as an episode of SHOCK WAVES, a four-part TV series about real-life crimes, DIARY OF MY MIND is a short, riveting exploration of adolescent psychosis, teacher responsibility and the moral minefield that connects them. Meier, together with co-writer Antoine Jaccoud, create a dense storytelling web from the get-go, the main objective not to explain Ben’s inexplicable behaviour but how the act created a ripple effect – or shock wave – in both Ben and Esther’s lives.

As the investigation unfolds, the film zigzags between the imprisoned Benjamin and flashbacks to events described in his lucid first-person account. Here, Meier relies on humanistic impulses rather than cheap thrills to depict the violence of Benjamin’s acts, while Jeanne Lapoirie’s inquisitive yet forgiving close-ups, focus right in on the characters as the effect of his actions become clear.

A stoic performance from Ardant sees her play Fontanel as a tight knot of devastation and defiance, a woman torn between the belief that children shouldn’t be shielded from harsh realities of life and her obvious influence on Benjamin. Esther is more than another suffering archetype here as finds herself increasingly torn between wanting to turn away from her pupil and the knowledge that she is all he has left.


19-year-old rising star Mottet Klein is equally excellent as Benjamin Feller, the troubled teenager who can’t stop thinking about killing his parents. Mottet-Klein gives his all as the confused young man explosively coming apart at the seams, confirming him as an actor of frightening power and vulnerability.

Running at just over an hour, DIARY OF MY MIND starts off strongly but does feel increasingly compressed and rushed towards the end. A couple of supporting characters also feel frustratingly short-changed including cocky defence lawyer (Stephanie Blanchoud) who clearly dislikes Ardant’s character and shrink (Carlo Brandt) with whom Ardant has one of the film’s strongest scenes.

That said, this is a brooding think piece which poses many thorny questions, such as whether art breeds violence and the responsibility of the educator when influencing impressionable young minds. An austere, fiercely intelligent piece of work that lingers long in the mind.

3.5 out of 5 stars

SHOCK WAVES: DIARY OF MY MIND screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 12 October 2018