Carla (Katie Holmes) is a young poet whose erratic behaviour lands her in an institution for bipolar patients. There she meets a likeminded soul and they embark upon an intense relationship. But Marco (Luke Kirby) is unashamed about his condition and ambivalent about taking his medication, believing the pair’s artistry and romance will flourish further if unburdened by chemical restrictions. As their volatile relationship continues, much to the chagrin of people around them, they come to the realisation that only as fugitives will they manage to stay together – unless they tear each other apart first.
Katie Holmes will surprise many a viewer with her work here, a far more committed performance than any seen from her to date (with shades of Claire Danes’ work in Homeland), while Kirby is just as impressive. But while strong acting anchors the film, Touched with Fire is equally impressive as a visual spectacle. Taking its cues from the works of Van Gogh, with whom the lovers are obsessed as a fellow bipolar artist, director Paul Dalio presents the frame as an expressionistic canvass which transfigures according to its characters’ emotional states. It may not surprising to learn that director Dalio is bipolar himself, which only serves to mark this debut feature an even more commendable achievement.