“Psychiatry, a magnifying glass on the state of our society”

“Psychiatry, a magnifying glass on the state of our society”

In Averroès and Rosa Parks, in theaters on March 20, Nicolas Philibert continues his exploration of the world of psychiatry. Meeting with this tutelary figure of French documentary, whose work is imbued with humanism.

What approach guided the creation of this triptych?

I first asked myself: what could I have in common with these patients? These people are sometimes stigmatized, considered strange, if not aggressive, or possibly dangerous. Always looked at askance, they are scary. I wanted to go and meet them, taking the viewer by the hand.

What limits have you set for yourself in this exploration of the intimate and of suffering?

I have always filmed people with their consent and not without their knowledge. I avoided filming people who were delusional, incoherent in their words and therefore too unaware of what we wanted to achieve through this film. I try not to make suffering a spectacle at the expense of people in a vulnerable state, which avoids feeding the public’s appetite for sensationalism. I know well that the act of filming consists of taking. Always. It’s ontological. To film is to confine yourself in space and time. We also say a “shot”, “a capture”. But the essential question is: what will I give back of what I have taken? Will I handle it with enough delicacy?

In the discussions, everything is discussed, politics and even war. Why make us hear from the first sequence a patient on the question of religion?

First of all, it was not my choice, it was the patients who, on several occasions, spoke about religion. During the first interview, the Jewish patient is preparing to leave the hospital to live in a shared apartment. He is suddenly distressed at the idea that he could be prevented from practicing his religion freely in this new context of life. This sequence resonates very strongly with the current rise in anti-Semitism.

It’s more a question of a believing citizen than of a patient…

But patients remain citizens! They have rights, are part of our society and are affected by religious, political and professional questions. Their anxieties and fears are often the same as ours since we are part of the same humanity. And besides, is there a boundary between “them” and “us”? They are our loved ones. In psychiatry, these people who have aspirations, tastes, talents, go through moments of deep vulnerability. This film tries to show them differently.

“Is the Council of State aware of what we are experiencing? » asks one of them. Their anxieties seem amplified by the illness…

Psychiatry is a magnifying glass that reveals a lot about the state of society. Frightened, tormented, assailed by injunctions, voices, and sometimes very lucid, the sick live in great porosity in the face of the violence of the world which they take head on. They often fail to build protections. This is perhaps precisely what they are sick with, unlike those who manage to protect themselves by putting in place defense systems.

We clearly feel in the film that it takes time for the patients’ words to be listened to. However, time is becoming increasingly scarce in the hospital…

Doctors note this with regret: the duration of care devoted to each patient is increasingly short. There is such a lack of beds, staff and resources in psychiatric hospitals that it sometimes happens that in order to admit a new patient to the hospital, it is imperative to discharge another. The teams then find themselves faced with questions of conscience: who are we going to bring out, when none of those who are there is yet ready? So the only recourse is medication. This drift is the fruit of neoliberalism applied to the field of health.

However, you have not chosen to show the dilapidation of the hospital but, on the contrary, the places of care which fulfill their function as best as possible. For what ?

I didn’t want to make a plaintive film that would plunge us into total despair. Everyone knows that our health system is in bad shape, that the hospital is under pressure and that the use of temporary workers among nurses and caregivers is increasing. I wanted to show teams who resist the injunction of immediacy and who try to practice psychiatry worthy of the name. This psychiatry is not a utopia, my films say.

So this is not a militant work?

No, or if she advocates, it is in favor of a certain dignity. Militant cinema is sometimes reduced to slogans which are anti-thought. I make cinema that is more political than militant. What interests me is filming worlds in their complexity. I don’t make films to denounce, but rather to state.

You have already taken an interest in mentally ill people in 1996, in The Least of Things, filmed in the psychiatric clinic founded by Dr. Jean Oury. Why come back to this subject?

This first experience in psychiatry carried out in the clinic of La Borde (Loir-et-Cher) was founding in my career. This shoot had a profound impact on me, leading me to rethink my own work. I make films about speaking and listening. My documentary La Maison de la radio was a hymn to the circulation of words. As a filmmaker, I help certain words and remarks emerge in front of the camera, thus developing my own ethics of listening.

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