“12 Days”: Madness in the Face of Justice

Documentary filmmaker Raymond Depardon gives a voice to people in a psychiatric hospital interned without their consent. The movie shines a light on the line between sanity and madness, and the limits of the justice system.

In the past in France, the decision to intern someone against their will was the sole responsibility of a psychiatrist, and was not subject to supervision. Since 2013, in an effort to introduce safeguards, the law has required that each patient speak with a judge who examines the appropriateness of the internment within 12 days of the decision being enacted. Driven by a passion for the fields of justice and psychiatry, renowned documentary maker Raymond Depardon (News Items, Urgences, Caught in the Acts) was granted exceptional authorization to enter a hospital in Lyon, and film interviews in which magistrates have a few minutes to uphold or reject a patient’s internment.

Whether the distressed employee discussing harassment by her superiors, the young, fragile mother who wants to see her two-year-old daughter, or the man who asks the judge how is dad is — despite having murdered him ten years earlier — the ten people featured offer a staggering image of contemporary social vulnerability. “I tried to offer a new, universal perspective on the problem of mental health. I emerged a wiser man from this work. The film gives a voice to those who are momentarily imprisoned in minds they are no longer able to use,” wrote the director in his statement for the documentary. “These vulnerable people recount their intimate personal stories, as well as their visions of the political, social, and moral history of France.”

As in his previous works, Depardon manages to make his own presence disappear to leave the floor fully open to his subjects. The accounts are delivered with no background narration, and the movie is filmed with just three cameras — one on the judge’s face, one on the patient, and a third for the shots of the hospitals corridors and paths. “These shots help provide equal distance between the magistrate and the patient, and avoid imposing a dominant point of view while giving viewers the freedom to form their own opinions,” he says. The strength of the movie is that it offers no condescending judgement of the patients or the judges. Depardon proves himself to be a humanist, without being overly moralistic. While he takes into account the complexity of each situation, he demonstrates the extreme caution exercised by the judges, and their systematic referral to medical recommendations.

U.S. release: 16 mars
Director: Raymond Depardon
Running time: 87 mn
Distributeur : Distrib Film US

Article published in the February 2018 issue of France-Amérique.