Jamal Abdel-Kader is the only psychiatrist in theBeaujon Hospital, located in Clichy (Hauts-de-Seine). Alone to ensure the survival of a sick service, he spends his days running from emergencies to his office, from consultation to consultation.
For his movie limit statefeatured in the ACID selection at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, Nicolas Peduzzi followed the overloaded daily life of Dr Jamal Abdel-Kader for two and a half years. The documentary filmmaker is more accustomed to filming in the United States – his latest film, the sublime Ghost Songfollowed several residents of the city of Houston on a hurricane night.
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But at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the French director wanted to film this hospital in the Paris region which was already familiar to him. “I had known Beaujon in the 1990s, because my father had had a liver transplant there. During the first confinement, with my producer, I wanted to spend time there. The idea oflimit state was born from his meeting with Jamal Abdel-Kader, at the beginning of the location scouting.
“I spent a lot of time in the department where my father had had surgery, in intensive care, in pathologiescontinues Nicolas Peduzzi. And finally, one day, I go down to the emergency room and I meet Jamal, who confuses me because he thinks I’m a journalist [rires].»
Very quickly, the “flash” filmmaker on the young psychiatrist’s way of doing things. “I see this guy who is quite young, who really takes time with his patients, and who has an interesting way of managing the daily life, not only the patients, but also the institutions, the police, the doctors, the caregivers.”
According to the documentary filmmaker, Beaujon is a state-of-the-art hospital for polytraumatized patients: “There are many people there who have attempted suicide and the team arrives at their bedside in intensive care. There are also people who are there for serious, genetic, very rare illnesses, who are therefore in the hospital all the time. Psychologically, there too, it means that we often need a psychiatrist.
Jamal Abdel-Kader, who must train interns and coordinate care with other caregivers, juggles all these tasks, at the total sacrifice of his private life and – as we understand throughout the film – his own health.
“Before, I had never really wanted to make films abouttrust Nicolas Peduzzi. And there, finally, meeting Jamal, it went without saying. […] It wasn’t just the subject that attracted me, it was also a character, a way of speaking, a charisma. Someone who can carry a film on their shoulders, not everyone can.”
Because Jamal, with his melancholy gaze, his characteristic gait and his black humor (“crazy people, I think it’s less heavy than normal people”), could have been a fictional character. His back pain, a consequence of his burnout (and perhaps the way he bends all day long to get up to his patients), is a recurring motif in the film. “I actually knew how neglected psychiatry was, but I didn’t realize how huge it was physically”note Nicolas Peduzzi.
System in crisis
In the film, the young doctor eloquently analyzes the relationship to care and psychiatry in our society: “The urban environment is about productivity. And the madman produces nothing, so we reject him. This productivism which damages the sick is also involved in the decline of the profession he has chosen. “I cannot quantify what I do, and since we are in a logic where we want to quantify everything, that devalues what I do”he explains soberly.
Nicolas Peduzzi, who tells us that Jamal Abdel-Kader is currently “a break”a pu observer la “loss of innocence” of the doctor, passionate about his profession, but unable to exercise it fully in the public hospital.
“I saw Jamal get sick of the bureaucracy, the institutions, our system which completely neglects the patientssays the filmmaker. The thing that really shocked me, even more than the public hospital and medicine, was really our society and the way people who are a little different are excluded. And that, in fact, we all experience it on a daily basis… We all have people in our families who have serious mental health problems, whom we don’t know what to do and who are neglected. I have the impression that in France, we are very very very behind in psychiatry.
Take care of a place
The film also allows us to immerse ourselves in the daily life of a psychiatric ward, a place that is both taboo and eternally fantasized. The director also claims that the filming experience was, in a way, therapeutic. “Psychiatry is something that I knew, very young, for a long time. Of course, it’s something that touches me from the inside. Maybe that’s why the meeting with Jamal spoke to me.
On the set, Nicolas Peduzzi was accompanied by his mother, a former war photographer, “who also lived inside the hospital, because she was there with my father all the time. We both went back there, there may be something unconscious, but I really wanted to do something with her, because I really like her work.
The documentary, of great formal beauty, is thus punctuated by the black and white photographs of Pénélope Chauvelot, which capture the timeless aspect of the hospital. “I thought it was the right time to put certain moments that we couldn’t film too much or moments of intimacy, to have these photos that would allow us to step back and also be able to breathe a little bit »justifies Nicolas Peduzzi.
Whilea contested merger between Beaujon and Bichat hospitals (XVIIIe district of Paris) should take place in a few years (in 2028 in a new hospital located in Saint-Ouen), limit state immortalizes this place on the wire. With an impressive sense of the frame, Nicolas Peduzzi, helped by his grader Lucie Bruneteau, makes the Beaujon hospital, its stairs, its rooms and its facades, real cinematic sets. “I think it was important for me too to show this place that is no longer going to existsays the filmmaker. I wanted to try to take care of a little bit the place that I knew as a child and that I always found beautiful.
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