Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Raymond Depardon's quiet, riveting 12 DAYS gets U.S. theatrical premiere in NYC at AFA

Watching 12 DAYS -- a new documentary from France about people confined to a psychiatric hospital without their consent who, by French law, must be seen by a judge before a period of 12 days has ended -- your heart goes out to literally every person on view. These would be the patients themselves (we meet maybe a dozen of these in the course of the film) but also the judges, whose responsibility it is to treat these people fairly while protecting society from the possible danger they represent, and the attorneys or representatives of the incarcerated patients, who must keep the best interests of their clients in mind, even as it is often pretty clear that these clients have a somewhat tenuous grasp on reality (as most of us understand the term, at least).

While viewing this film, TrustMovies kept flashing back to an another documentary he had seen maybe a decade or more ago, taking place in a French courtroom. The two had so much in common that I felt certain they had been made by the same filmmaker. Sure enough: When I looked up the work of 12 Days' director, Raymond Depardon (shown at right), there on his IMDB resume was The 10th Judicial Court: Judicial Hearings, made in 2004, which I had seen via the late and greatly lamented DVD rental/movie information service Greencine (to which I had subscribed and for which, eventually, I began to write).

In his latest film, Depardon again (even more so this time) offers an almost shockingly humane look at French justice -- a simple, direct and yet hugely encompassing view of how certain important institutions and their attitudes influence our social, cultural, and private lives. This time the subject is mental health and the rights of the individual vs those of society.

Depardon's camera and viewpoint allows us to see and hear the institutionalized from their perspective, as well as from that of the judges (one of whom is shown above) and the lawyers who are present to assure the rights of those who are held against their will. In addition to the "interviews" that take place between judge, defendant and lawyer, we occasionally spend time viewing (from a discreet distance) certain inmates as they simply sit or pace.

One of these, if I am not mistaken, we see returning from buying (or maybe cadging) a cup of coffee then going on to her interview. In all cases, the POV and attitude we perceive via the filmmaker is one of non-judgmental viewing and, yes, caring. And yet Depardon allows us to experience and empathize with the viewpoints of literally everyone we meet. His stationary camera, along with his ability to know how much to give us and when to end a scene, ensures that we understand with surprising complexity what is going on and why the final judgment is decided as it is.

The cinematography (by Depardon and Simon Roche) editing (by Simon Jacquet) and really lovely musical score (from recent Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat) all contribute mightily to the overall effect of this film, which ends with a quiet and beautiful early morning look (above) at the hospital in a kind of blue-toned fog.

More than anything else, I suspect that thoughtful, concerned Americans will see this film as a knock in the head so far as how our own system of justice cares for the mentally disturbed and for society in general.  Every time I view a French film or television series -- either narrative (from Serial Killer 1 to Spiral) or documentary Depardon's work to that of Nicolas Philibert -- I am impressed anew with how much more genuinely caring and concerned with the public and private good is France, even with all its current problems, than is America. An attempt at democracy came to both countries around the same time over 200 years ago. What each has done with this idea seems shockingly (in the case of the USA, increasingly and appallingly) different.

From Distrib Films US and running a lean 87 minutes, 12 Days opens this Friday, March 16, in New York City at Anthology Film Archives for a week-long run. AFA is simultaneously hosting a retrospective of some of Depardon's work, which should be a must for documentary fans. The Depardon screenings run from Thursday, March 15 through Sunday, March 25. Click here (then scroll up and down) and here to see the complete schedule.  Note: Raymond Depardon and his longtime partner, collaborator, and producer Claudine Nougaret will be at AFA in person for opening night for a Q&A after the 7pm and then will introduce the 9pm screening!

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