12 Days: The judge and the "madman"
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2017: Raymond Depardon brings us a new documentary which causes us to reflect on the face of justice and those who are admitted against their will to psychiatric hospitals
Going through the looking glass of the encounter between the electric haze of the mind and the legal representatives trying to break through and assess its density to decide whether or not to set individuals admitted to psychiatric hospitals without their consent free: this is the subject matter of 12 Days [+see also:
film profile], the latest documentary by seasoned filmmaker Raymond Depardon, whose command of the genre is by now unquestioned (Reporters, Délits flagrants and Modern Life [+see also:
film profile] to name just a few of his works), which was presented at a special screening as part of the official selection of the 70th Cannes Film Festival.
Every year, 92,000 people are sectioned in France. But ever since a law was passed in 2013, they must be brought before a judge of freedoms, within 12 days of being sectioned and then every six months if necessary, who must check that the procedure has been followed correctly and approve or refuse subsequent hospitalisation. It’s a very unique one-on-one, as the judge is not a medical professional (but does have medical records available to him) and is faced with men and women in suffering (accompanied by their lawyers) with whom he must establish a dialogue, which is sometimes rather delicate given the deep-rooted nature of their problems.
Ten people sectioned (chosen from 72 filmed sessions), four judges, and three cameras (one on the patient, one on the judge and the third capturing the general scene, so as no to let any one point of view dominate). This is the format used by Depardon to reflect on this situation and allow the viewer to form their own opinion. This simple observation, which inevitably creates a polarising effect between more or less compassionate logic and irrationality of varying degrees, gives us a measure of just how hard it is for the judge (who must almost always deliver his decision immediately), but it is above all an opportunity to give a voice to individuals who, the rest of the time, wander around at a loose end in the corridors and fenced courtyards of the establishment (settings filmed between fragments of the hearings and set against some beautiful music by Alexandre Desplat).
Both fascinating and moving, this verbalisation of what’s going on inside the patients always ends up bringing their troubles racing to the surface, even when they try to hide them, without mentioning the two astonishing and harrowing cases of advanced delirium. A quick-fire series of very human portraits that respect the patients’ dignity whilst giving us a striking insight into the violence of feelings of persecution, the paranoia, the schizophrenia, the suicidal urges, the consequences of harassment in the workplace or forced separation from a parent or a child, the desire to self-harm, etc. Weighing up, in the name of society, the danger to themselves or others of these patients that they must patiently and effectively establish a dialogue with (one of whom is a murderer), the judges also come up against all the fragility of humankind and the very fine line that sometimes separates reason and folly, with certain truths piercing even the thickest of fogs.
(Translated from French)
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