Review: On the Adamant
- BERLINALE 2023: Nicolas Philibert dismantles prejudice with a brilliant, tender and exceptionally authentic documentary about disorders of the mind
"We’re free to see whatever we want to". In a world which is often reduced to box ticking as emphasised by a title card appearing at the end of On the Adamant [+see also:
interview: Nicolas Philibert
film profile], the new film by French documentary-maker Nicolas Philibert which was presented in competition in the Berlinale, kindness opens a window onto a singular space, a place to draw breath, and the characters it accommodates. The space in question is a day hospital of a very unusual kind, a boat docked on the quays of the Seine in Paris, where workshops, drawing, music, dance, films, sewing, reflection on current events, etc, are all organised for women and men living with mental illness.
There’s no visual distinction between patients and carers here, but a participatory approach based on exchange and dialogue, the layout of the ship being favourable to private conversations and the flow of light, and the tranquillity of the river greatly encouraging relaxation of minds which are sometimes in turmoil and whose owners’ have suffered considerably throughout their lives. Because mental illness is, of course, central to this documentary which subtly inverts values as the filmmaker gently breaks down the barriers separating us from this madness, which we’re often instinctively afraid of as outsiders, turning it into a moving, human reality, which feels so close to us that it comes across as what it actually is: a simple distortion in the perception of reality. But once certain boundaries are crossed and certain abysses navigated, it’s incredibly hard to float back up to the surface of the world… Hence the need for engaging locations like the Adamant, and enlightened, sensitive, sincere and unprejudiced artists such as Nicolas Philibert, because without authentic talent and personal investment, good intentions don’t go very far.
Having shot the film on the boat over the course of one summer, the director strikes the perfect balance between outside perspectives and inner expression, capturing moments of community and exploring the lives of patients who often speak very lucidly about their weakness and their social solitude. Without ever masking the wandering and delirious thoughts these patients experience, the film paints a highly respectful and, at times, poignant portrait, which also makes us smile (as one of the protagonists says, "it’s funny but it’s also scary"). Philibert’s is a supple and natural approach, both methodical and poetic, which demonstrates great human and cinematographic understanding and which smoothly and modestly establishes contact in an environment where you have to find the right keys to connect ("it’s complicated: words, communication", "here, people have image issues"). The filmmaker makes the most of this proximity, without ever imposing his own viewpoint, to offer up his message: Madness is real, but it’s also relative because we’re "together, for better or for worse" and some of us just need life-rafts, attention, a listening ear, kindness and light.
On the Adamant is produced by TS Productions in co-production with France 3 Cinéma and by Japan’s Long Ride. The film will be released in French cinemas on 19 April courtesy of Les Films du Losange, who are also steering international sales.
(Translated from French)
Photogallery 24/02/2023: Berlinale 2023 - On the Adamant
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