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BERLINALE 2024 Berlinale Special

Nicolas Philibert • Director of Averroes & Rosa Parks

"These conversations go beyond the psychiatry setting, because we all share the same fears and anxieties"

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- BERLINALE 2024: The French documentary-maker tells us why and how he immersed himself in a psychiatric hospital, getting as close as possible to the patient-caregiver relationship

Nicolas Philibert • Director of Averroes & Rosa Parks
(© Michel Crotto)

Awarded last year’s Golden Bear for On The Adamant [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Nicolas Philibert
film profile
]
, the famous French documentary-maker Nicolas Philibert is back in the Berlinale showcase - this time in the Berlinale Special line-up - with the impressive Averroes & Rosa Parks [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Nicolas Philibert
film profile
]
, which is the second chapter of his trilogy on mental illness.

Cineuropa: How did the idea for a trilogy come about? Did you film Averroes & Rosa Parks at the same time as On The Adamant?
Nicolas Philibert: The idea for this film set in a hospital came to me as I was filming On The Adamant. I told myself that I had to avoid portraying The Adamant as an isolated place, because this isn’t the case. It’s a day centre which is part of the Paris-Centre facility’s psychiatric department, which includes two Medical Mental Health Centres where patients attend consultations, a crisis centre and two departments in Esquirol Hospital in Charenton known as Averroes & Rosa Parks. Patients circulate between one place and the other. I started to think about this circulation, and I paid a visit to the hospital which François and Olivier go to, whom we see in On The Adamant. These visits gradually turned into me scouting for locations. And one fine day, I went to see the head of department who authorised me going on board The Adamant, and I told him that I wanted to shoot a second film, in the hospital this time round. He accepted straight away, and I was given total freedom, providing, of course, that the people I was filming were ok with being filmed.

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Were you surprised by the intensity of the individual consultations you filmed?
That’s why it’s a real pleasure to make this kind of film in the way that I did; in other words very openly, improvising and leaving plenty of room for the unexpected. In psychiatry, this pleasure is guaranteed: we’re constantly surprised by the characters we meet, by how unique and strange they are. All the clichés just fall away: we’re dealing with complex individuals who surprise us, who throw us off course, who test our limits. But I didn’t randomly choose the patients I filmed: I suggested it to those I already had a bit of a rapport with. Others seemed too incoherent, too delirious or too unwell, even if some of them were desperate to be filmed. I make my films based on a very clear ethic: to film someone is to capture them, to freeze them in an image at a very precise moment in their lives, and I try not to film people without their knowledge or to their own cost. I say that I try because you don’t always know the result that filming someone will give. You can have the best intentions in the world but end up hurting someone out of clumsiness. It’s not an exact science, but I try to do as little harm as possible. We’re in a powerful position with our cameras. How do we make sure we don’t abuse this power? These patients are in vulnerable situations. We have to be incredibly sensitive.

The film pays wonderful tribute to caregivers and their ability to listen patiently and to dialogue with patients.
I think they’re incredible, each in their own way. It can be a very hard job which requires an abundance of delicacy, flexibility and time. That’s what’s lacking at the moment: time in hospitals, time which caregivers no longer have. They’re finding themselves increasingly obliged to monitor patients, hand out medication, fill in paperwork. But it takes time to build a relationship with a patient, you have to be at your best, because the people you come across put you through the wringer and won’t stand for ready-made answers. They’re always looking for meaning, looking for something which might bring them relief. That’s why we’re always on the alert, which is good for a filmmaker. They’re also people who move us with their hyper-sensitivity, and they make us take a look at ourselves, and at the violence and darkness of the world. In a certain sense, these conversations go beyond the psychiatry setting, because we all share the same fears and anxieties. They’re just heightened here.

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(Translated from French)

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