In the review, Adamant – winner from Berlin offers art and soul aboard a floating Paris nursery | Berlin Film Festival 2023

Tthis is true justice in Kristen Stewart’s Berlin jury that awarded the top prize, the Golden Bear, to this excellent film by 72-year-old French director and lion documentary filmmaker Nicolas Philibert. His film is compassionate, intelligent and astutely observed; this is a paris landmark that has only been around for 13 years but one that tourists and anyone with an interest in mental health really should come and admire. Adamant is a floating day care center for people with mental disorders, permanently moored on the Seine River right next to the Charles de Gaulle Bridge. The project is half Mississippi gamblers’ riverboat, half art studio, with a sleek system of auto-opening blinds that make the most of daylight. Staff offer counseling and art therapy through music, painting, crafts, literature and cinema. Adamant hosts its own annual film festival where patients choose films. There is also a cafe and bar.

The ship’s name, Adamant, is interestingly old-fashioned, as is calling it Warring Temeraire. But it’s right. Everyone involved is determined that the French state will protect this kind of respectful, collegial approach that treats patients as human beings.

The film opens with a fascinating, even sensational set design: the patient François sings the 1979 pop song La Bombe Humaine by the French band Téléphone. His face is tense and trembling, but his message is full of passion and brilliance – an example of “outsider art”, an incredibly real outpouring of emotion and talent that is partially obscured by his problems, but also somehow deepened and given meaning by them . Later, this man will tell Philibert that he is grateful for art-based therapies – but even more so for the medicine, without which he would rave about being Jesus and throw himself into the Seine.

Other patients receive comparable therapies through drawing, painting, and photography. One former patient even offers to run a movement-based class for them herself, although Philibert shows us that the staff, no matter how far-sighted they think, are clearly wary of this development. Another patient, a movie buff, speaks eloquently of Jean Gabin and Lino Ventura, and says of his co-patients, “You have actors here who don’t know they’re actors. It’s not medical. They are actors without realizing it.”

Philibert is a director who was interested in the philosopher Michel Foucault. Watching this documentary, I couldn’t help but think that he must have had in the back of his mind the image of the “ship of fools” in Foucault’s The History of Madness, as well as the work on Sebastian Brant’s 15th-century poem of that name, a Platonic satire that Foucault significantly reinterpreted as a key image of pre-Enlightenment madness, crazy people who were allowed to roam or float where they wanted before the rational era of punitive surveillance decreed that they should be locked up and investigated.

Adamant is quite different: a non-ship of non-fools. The fact that it floats (although it is moored) signals that it is somewhat outside the traditional buildings and institutions of psychiatry. His client-patients are day visitors; after the end of classes, they return to their residences and hostels. They are treated like students, although, as François says, the off-camera world of drugs makes it possible. However, there is a gentle and very exhilarating sense of freedom and possibility aboard the Adamant, and there is tremendous warmth, compassion and human curiosity in this film.

Na Adamant screened at the Berlin Film Festival.

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