by Rachel Willis
Like a fly on the wall, Raymond Depardon takes his audience inside a world most will never see, and many may never want to see again.
In France, anyone committed to a psychiatric hospital without consent must be seen by a judge within 12 days. At that time, the judge will decide whether to continue their treatment or release them from care. Each patient’s doctor, or group of doctors, provides recommendations to the judge. In every case Depardon is privy to, the doctors never recommend release for their patients.
Only one woman is okay with this decision. She admits she needs additional care and seems happy with the judge’s decision to continue her treatment for another six months. For the rest, they desire their freedom.
Many of the patients are lucid. They argue their cases before the judge, promising to seek treatment from their own doctors, find jobs, and do what they can to lead healthy lives. When they’re remitted back into the care of the hospital, they promise to appeal the decision (they have ten days to appeal any decision made by the judge).
For others, it is clear their mental health is poor. One man is unable to answer questions from the judge; it’s as if he is having a separate conversation, one that only makes sense to him. Another man begs the judge to find his father and have his father come visit him. Only after he leaves the room does the judge comment on why his father will never visit.
It’s an interesting conundrum for the judges, who must rely on the recommendations of the doctors to make their decisions. Do they struggle with their decision when patients have clear goals for their lives outside of the hospital?
Depardon doesn’t give us any answers. He remains an unbiased observer never offering a narrative to sway the viewer. We’re never given any information outside of what we see inside the small, claustrophobic courtroom. This may irritate some viewers who may wish to know more about each of the individuals seen before the judges or the circumstances surrounding their care. For those open to simply taking what Depardon gives, the film is likely to raise many important questions about the nature of mental health care.