Friday, April 19, 2024

“ON THE ADAMANT”

THE STORY – The Adamant is a psychiatric center located on the banks of the Seine in Paris. Patients seeking assistance for mental health issues are invited to participate in a variety of activities, regardless of their age or background

THE CAST – N/A

THE TEAM – Nicolas Philibert (Director), Linda De Zitter & Nicolas Philibert (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 109 Minutes


At the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival, the Golden Bear – the festival’s highest honor – was awarded to the French documentary “On the Adamant.” It’s a lofty honor to be bestowed upon any film, and this one notably beat out such high-profile contenders as Christian Petzold’s “Afire” and future Best Picture nominee “Past Lives.” “On the Adamant” is a surprising winner, not necessarily because of its quality, but because the film is so unassuming in its execution. But, like many great documentaries, it uses one specific subject to make a grand statement about a societal topic. Here, the focus is on the titular Adamant, a mental health treatment facility with a unique structure. It’s situated on a boat that floats on the edge of the Seine in Paris. While the center is a fascinating example of how to find creative ways to treat patients, the film itself uses a hands-off approach to make a point about the humanity of said patients that ultimately comes across as unfocused rather than pointedly atypical.

Director Nicolas Philibert establishes his film’s structure immediately. It opens with an extended scene of a patient singing a song for a small crowd of fellow Adamant inhabitants; his performance is energized and invigorating, preparing the audience for the types of artistic expression that the hospital encourages. After this, there’s another long sequence, this time of several slow establishing shots of the area around the Adamant and, finally, the ship itself. With this montage of languid locales, we are given insight into the rhythm of the film to follow. The documentary comprises a combination of lengthy looks at the patients — whether taking part in therapeutic activities and meetings or in solitary direct addresses to the camera – and quiet shots of the hospital itself.

It’s easy to be drawn into the moments that merely show the ship as it’s a thing of beauty. Made of warm, burnished wood, it resembles a nice hotel more closely than a mental health facility. Its home on the bank of the Seine even has thematic resonance, as it can be seen as representative of the way that many look at people with mental illness as being on the edge of society rather than active, contributing parts of it. In fact, “On the Adamant” is most effective as a look into the humanity of those who come to the ship for treatment. Far from the exploitive portrayal of psychiatric patients that movies have employed for decades, the documentary presents the Adamant’s passengers as creative and interesting due to the traits that make them different, not in spite of them.

The film’s patterned execution sets the audience up for a structure akin to the Adamant’s daily schedule, further emphasizing the empathetic perspective. But, the long takes and lack of editing within individual sequences also give the film an unfocused energy. In the interview portions, the camera merely sits in front of the patients while they talk, with no commentary or questions from the filmmaker himself. This hands-off approach lets the subjects speak for themselves entirely. Still, by the sixth or seventh time this technique is deployed, it starts to feel that the director’s lack of input is disengaging rather than refreshingly objective compared to other documentaries.

While “On the Adamant” does a good job of making viewers connect with the facility’s patients, it can’t be called the most invigorating of films, and its low-concept approach gets tiring. Still, it’s a supremely humanistic film that shows that we all have more in common than we may think.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - The film's humane approach to depicting patients at the titular Parisian mental health facility appropriately underlines its themes of empathy and compassion.

THE BAD - The hands-off concept makes the film feel unfocused, especially in the lengthy interview segments.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best Documentary Feature

THE FINAL SCORE - 5/10

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Cody Dericks
Cody Dericks
Actor, awards & musical theatre buff. Co-host of the horror film podcast Halloweeners.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>The film's humane approach to depicting patients at the titular Parisian mental health facility appropriately underlines its themes of empathy and compassion.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The hands-off concept makes the film feel unfocused, especially in the lengthy interview segments.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-documentary-feature/">Best Documentary Feature</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>5/10<br><br>"ON THE ADAMANT"