Acclaimed French documentarian Nicolas Philibert (To Be and To Have NZIFF 2002) takes us aboard a floating day care centre for adults with mental health challenges in this quietly observed yet unflinching Golden Bear winner.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
In Paris, you can find l’Adamant, a two-storey glass and wood structure festooned with plants, moored on the banks of the Seine. This facility, staffed by professionals, provides an unusual location for a voluntary yet vital service: offering those with mental health challenges a place to spend their days, lightly supervised and free to enjoy their preferred activities, from painting and cooking to music and reading, or simply enjoying a cup of coffee.
Films focusing on mental illness often struggle to avoid either wallowing in misery or indulging in treacly uplift. Yet veteran documentarian Nicolas Philibert—most famous for his schoolroom classic To Be and To Have (NZIFF 2002) and most recently seen at NZIFF in 2013’s The House of Radio—expertly dodges both pitfalls. Using an observational style not dissimilar to the legendary Frederick Wiseman, but with a more personable touch, Philibert takes us aboard the Adamant with minimal introduction, allowing us to meet its daily visitors during their activities simply as fellow humans: never reduced to their diagnoses, never minimising their challenges.
A welcome antidote to turbo-charged issue documentaries, On The Adamant may superficially be an unlikely Golden Bear winner, but its uncommon sensitivity makes it a richly deserved one. — Doug Dillaman
“There was real justice in Kristen Stewart’s Berlin jury awarding their top prize, the Golden Bear, to this excellent movie from the 72-year-old French director and lion of documentary film-making, Nicolas Philibert. His film is compassionate, intelligent and shrewdly observed; it is about a Paris landmark which has only been in existence for 13 years but which tourists and anyone with an interest in mental health should really come and marvel at… there is a gentle and very happy sense of freedom and possibility aboard the Adamant, and there is enormous warmth, sympathy and human curiosity in this film.” — Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian