Aboard a Floating French Clinic, Art Enables Healing

The elegant boat moored in Paris on the Seine, depicted lovingly in French filmmaker Nicolas Philibert’s new documentary, could easily be mistaken for a tourist trap. The Adamant, as the boat’s called, is actually part of the Saint-Maurice Hospital psychiatric network. On the vessel, outpatients interact with each other while guided by a small team of doctors and volunteers. Beyond its striking modern design and unusual setting, something else distinguishes the Adamant: Art plays a key role in the clinic’s approach to psychiatric therapy. For the medical professionals and patients on board, therapy is a form of poetic resistance, rather than a mere extension of pharmaceutical science.

On the Adamant, which won the Golden Bear at the 2023 Berlin Film Festival, underlines the clinic’s mission as the last bastion of the humanities in French healthcare, with art activities ranging from drawing and music workshops to a film club. While the documentary shows no villains, one can easily guess that the French healthcare system, which is universal and public, is experiencing some profit-driven privatization, similar to the American sector. The Adamant approach, on the other hand, has no immediately measurable outcomes; it is remarkably open-ended and process-driven. Participants come and go freely; some, such as Muriel, a soft-spoken middle-aged woman, help run the meetings, while others drift by passively. The clinic’s spirit of collectivity means that all activities are proposed, discussed, and planned by both the staff and the participants, provided they comply with its safety guidelines.

The film focuses on a group of visitors who show a remarkable awareness of slipping in and out of lucidity. François, a gaunt man whose poignant song about tranquilizers opens the film, describes raving states in which he thinks he’s Jesus. Muriel, feeling unsettled in a drawing workshop, sketches a praying mantis that will eat her lover,  joking darkly, “I’ll draw her a plate.” Brief exchanges and observations such as these underline the fact that the art workshops allow the patients suffering from psychiatric disorders to find a new confidence in their ability to translate confounding experiences into images and words — what one might call the poetry of the everyday. As one patient puts it, “What can I be like today to make it good? Things like that matter.”

Philibert alternates his takes between wide shots capturing the group dynamics during the arts and crafts activities and more intimate individual conversations, recorded up close. The scenes taken as a whole drive the message that art has a poetic function because it persists even when words fail. The sustained concentration, for instance, of the participants at their drawing boards and easels extends to practical tasks, such as counting money (the Adamant runs its own cafe), provisioning for groceries, or sewing. The arts act as an invitation to be present for extended periods of time, experiment, and tinker, making discoveries outside of language along the way.

On the Adamant also powerfully conveys the interconnection between individuality and collectivity. The clinic’s patients not only create art, but also present it to others. “It’s the interior moving forward,” says one young woman, standing at an easel with her abstract painting — a stunning metaphor for how art draws out the spirit. Even those grappling with delusion, such as the man who’s convinced that he and his brother are the reincarnations of Vincent and Theo van Gogh, find their place on the Adamant. There, visions are the mind’s poetic manifestations, and art is the conduit that makes them concrete.

On the Adamant (2023), directed by Nicolas Philibert, screens at the IFC Center (323 Sixth Avenue, Greenwich Village, Manhattan) from March 29 through April 4.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top