For a long time, Élodie Laurent loved nothing more than baking for the people who visited her French café. But that joy was taken away by something out of her control—psoriasis.
She has the obvious physical symptoms of the disease, including the red, scaly patches on her face and arms. But a closer look into her day-to-day life reveals the emotional and psychological toll that this immune-inflammatory disease has taken on her: she is self-conscious about her appearance, imagines her disease to be much worse than it is and actively avoids family and friends. Having been forced to give up her job as a pastry chef, she lives a solitary and isolated existence in London.
Although Élodie is a fictional character—the protagonist of the new short film Millefeuille (A Thousand Leaves)—her story is inspired by psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis patients around the world. The movie was produced following extensive research in this space to raise awareness of the sometimes hidden burden of psoriasis.
IN MILLEFEUILLE (A THOUSAND LEAVES), (LEFT) INITIALLY RESISTS THE WARMTH OF HOLLY’S FRIENDSHIP BECAUSE OF THE EMOTIONAL EFFECTS OF HER PSORIASIS.
Typically, when filmmakers set out to educate on a topic close to their hearts, they lean toward a documentary style. But here, they instead set out to make a short drama, aiming to attract a wider audience and a patient community who may have given up hope that life with psoriasis could be different.
“It’s been a really fascinating process doing this,” the film’s director Alistair Clayton said. “It’s not something I’ve seen done before.”
Over 100 million people worldwide—including some 14 million Europeans—have psoriasis. Beyond skin effects, up to 30 percent of people living with psoriasis are likely to develop psoriatic arthritis, which can lead to painful swollen joints and a loss of physical functioning. The toll of the disease is often hidden from the public; patients like Élodie wear sleeves and hats to strategically cover their skin lesions and hide from friends and family when their psoriasis flares. Hard-to-manage symptoms like itching can often become hugely burdensome for some patients as we see in the film.
“Millefeuille is an accurate portrayal of the experiences that commonly affect those living with psoriasis,” said Nikhil Yawalkar, a dermatologist at the University Hospital Bern in Switzerland who served as a consultant on the film. “Many people with psoriasis isolate themselves because of such a deep sense of shame, embarrassment and low self-esteem, and Élodie’s experience is reflective of this.”
Indeed, 88 percent of psoriasis patients said their condition affected their emotional well-being according to surveys conducted by the National Psoriasis Foundation between 2003 and 2011. Most psoriasis patients said they experienced anger, frustration and helplessness due to their disease.
THROUGH HOLLY’S UNDERSTANDING AND ACCEPTANCE OF HER DISEASE, ELODIE REKINDLES HER PASSION FOR BAKING AND LIFE.
But the film also portrays the hope that remains for people living with psoriasis. When Élodie befriends Holly, an outgoing young neighbor, she finds understanding and acceptance and discovers that Holly is a ‘millefeuille’ herself—deep, sweet, with many layers. Holly helps Élodie rediscover her passion for baking and place in the world.
“We’re delighted to see a story that shows us the value of looking beyond the disease and seeing the person.”
“It’s fabulous to see psoriasis getting this type of creative exposure,” Christine Janus, CEO of the International Alliance of Dermatology Patient Organisations, said. “Most people love cinema and a good story, and we’re delighted to see a story that shows us the value of looking beyond the disease and seeing the person.”