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CPH:DOX 2023

Review: On the Edge


- Nicolas Peduzzi returns with an intense documentary set in a Clichy hospital where a young psychiatrist takes care of complicated cases with rare patience and understanding

Review: On the Edge

The Beaujon public hospital in the Paris suburb of Clichy is one of the many victims of budget restrictions in the French healthcare system, and this was the case even before the new slashes were announced. The facility employs only one psychiatrist, who helps patients who have come in for other reasons – a lot of them due to trauma or suicide attempts. This psychiatrist is 34-year-old Dr Jamal, and he is the protagonist of On the Edge [+see also:
film profile
, the new documentary by French filmmaker Nicolas Peduzzi, which has just world-premiered at CPH:DOX.

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Peduzzi follows Jamal over different seasons: most of the proceedings take place inside the hospital, so we can only judge by what he is wearing under his white coat. He always uses a handheld camera, often chasing the doctor as he goes from patient to patient, consults colleagues and, at times, delivers his very thought-through, reasonable ideas about psychiatry and how the world treats those who see it differently. A child of two Syrian doctors, he wanted to be more than a surgeon and contribute to society.

The patients are almost as fascinating as the main protagonist, and Peduzzi has clearly picked the right segments to bring us closer to these unfortunate people. Jamal is our proxy, and it is his care and genuine interest that allow us to see them as people, beyond their ailments and diagnoses. At the beginning, the police have brought in an intoxicated arrestee, whom they previously beat up, and Jamal defuses the tense situation with some remarkable diplomacy.

An addict, Aliénor, has fallen from a bridge in front of a train, and has lost both her legs and a forearm. Her sister is adamant that she will no longer be there for her if Aliénor doesn't stay away from psychoactive substances. Jamal explains that things are not so simple and that not everything is her sister's responsibility – the problem is also in the treatment typically doled out by rehab institutions.

A young man despairs because he had a bout of pancreatitis and has learned that it can happen again at any time, and he doesn't even drink. Jamal tries to get him to chat about the medical TV shows he likes to watch. A young Dutch woman looks completely lost but refuses to go back to Maastricht, apparently afraid of her parents. Jamal treats her with respect and understanding, despite not fully grasping what she wants to do, why or how.

The film is not called On the Edge for nothing, but Jamal never breaks – he is even patient with the filmmakers, giving additional explanations without being asked to, as he rushes with a nurse down the corridor. However, the dense editing and the close proximity to such intense characters and relationships can be overwhelming for the viewer, as if we were there in the hospital with him. But Peduzzi gives us room for a breather every now and then, by employing black-and-white photographs, cross-fades or split screen that remind us we are watching a film. It is usually the highly evocative, dynamic, piano-driven musical theme that kickstarts the experience again.

Through Jamal's musings and talks with his colleagues, we come to understand that the institutional problem is not just present in healthcare and runs deeper than budget concerns: the whole system is set up upside-down, and what is missing is the true humanness and support we can provide for each other. He has both in abundance, and watching him, we would have to agree.

On the Edge was produced by France's Gogogo Films.

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