film review: I’M DANGEROUS WITH LOVE

Directed, photographed & edited by Michel Negroponte
Written by Nick Pappas & Joni Wehrli
Released by First Run Features
USA. 84 min. Not Rated

If addiction is a bitch, kicking it is a motherfucker. But what if there was a magic pill or serum you could take when going through withdrawal, something that made the process painless and stopped the jones? Shouldn’t that be distributed to every addict on the planet? Well, it turns out that there’s a highly controversial drug that exists and does just that. It’s called ibogaine. So why doesn’t anyone know about it if it’s such a miracle cure? Probably because it’s a hallucinogen and illegal as a result.

Dimitri Mugianis, the subject of Michel Negroponte’s fascinating new documentary, is a former musician and drug addict, who, after being mentored in the ways of administering ibogaine, made helping others detox his life’s mission. You might think that the risks he takes are morally questionable at times but what is indisputable is his absolute commitment to helping others with their illness. Since the drug is illegal, Mugianis must work covertly, usually meeting his clients in motels on the outskirts of New York City. He consults medical experts on the phone, but a medical professional is never present; being caught would certainly result in being stripped of a license and jail time. While never losing sight of the fact that what he’s doing is against the law, Mugianis is not morally conflicted. He has quite clearly grappled with all sides of the issue and has come to the conclusion that his work’s essential. Sitting in Union Square, Mugianis movingly talks about all the friends he has lost to drugs over the years, and, indeed, how he himself ought to have been among those dead.

On one detox weekend, taking place just outside Toronto, he attempts to help two brothers, both extremely addicted young men. Holed up in a cabin for the process of the withdrawal, one of the brothers has a seizure caught on camera. Believing for a moment that he lost the young man, Mugianis reconsiders the precarious nature of what he’s doing. The moment when he contemplates his own arrogance should come as a relief for any skeptics of the film. However, its subject is, at his very core, a humble man. The moment comes across as pivotal since it also appears to motivate the next chapter of I’m Dangerous With Love (the title is taken from a song), which takes Mugianis to Africa to fulfill what he believes to be the culmination of his journey—completing the rituals necessary in becoming a genuine shaman, one of which involves a disturbing ceremony. Mugianis’ psychotropic trip included hallucinations, tears, and retching. Pretty shocking stuff.

Interestingly, the documentary’s weakest section is where Negroponte turns the camera on himself. For some reason, he feels compelled to self-administer ibogaine and film the experience. While he wisely times this during a weekend when his family’s out of town, the scene does not really contribute to the film in any significant way. Negroponte, whose documentary Methadonia screened at the 2005 The New York Film Festival, has otherwise made a riveting portrait of an imperfect man trying to come to terms with his past mistakes and to use that same compulsive energy to helping others. Keep an eye out for Negroponte. No doubt, there will be more worthwhile films to come.

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