The Impact Series

On the Adamant Review: Company Is the Best Medicine

Berlin winner depicts a unique day centre in Paris

5 mins read

On the Adamant
(France, 109 min.)
Dir. Nicolas Philibert


The arts soothe the soul in On the Adamant. This calming slice of cinema vérité invites audiences to step aboard the Adamant, a unique day centre moored on the Seine in Paris. The boat forms part of the Paris Central Psychiatric Group and it favours a holistic, hands-on, community-based approach towards treating mental health. Coming to and going from the Adamant with the cadence of a regular out-patient, Philibert observes a refreshing practice. In turn, the therapeutic approach permeates his cinema to create a richly humanist work.

The boat itself is an exquisite and inviting locale on the river. An impressive design with warm wood panelling and copious windows to let the sunshine in, the natural light of the film proves an immediate tonic. It’s a serene oasis within a global city.

On the Adamant, which won the Golden Bear at the 2022 Berlin Film Festival, captures the daily encounters at the centre. The doc follows the rhythms of a waking day as patients stroll aboard in time for breakfast. Some patients discuss what they’ve done with the time since their previous visits, while others discuss films, the weather, and where they’re staying. Philibert doesn’t signal who among the cast is a patient and who is a career. Although, notably, he credits everyone at the end. This sense of being among the crowd is part of the Adamant experience. It’s an open place for dialogue and patients take active roles in some situations.

After breakfast, the Adamant sees a flurry of activity. There are dance classes, painting groups, writing sessions, and musical performances. The boat also hosts a film club, which meets to prepare its tenth anniversary show.

Each activity provides healthy art therapy. The carers gradually reveal themselves as they ask questions about the works created by participants. A drawing, for example, invites questions about a patient’s daughters. It offers a creative exercise through which he articulates his relationship to his kids and their environment. In other cases, patients debate a theme for a film programme. The exercise tasks them with building relationships, both between the films and themselves. Patients might clack out a tune on the ivories to calm themselves and find an outlet for their energy. Anyone expecting glimpses of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won’t find it here. There’s tranquility and calm on the Adamant.

At the same time, the centre doesn’t limit patients to arts and crafts. People come and people go, enjoying the prescription of community in lieu of pills. The boat offers a coffee shop where patients can simply sit and socialise, or enjoy a cup of Joe alone. The café also lets patients develop their workplace skills by taking orders, processing the cash, and navigating the idiosyncrasies of patients’ orders. (People are very particular about their cups!)

More notably, the meetings and sessions encourage open dialogue. The Adamant is a place where people can speak their minds, rather spend time in their own heads. Protocol allows them to set the pace. No matter how long it may take someone to make a point, or no matter how off-topic an idea may be, the carers encourage everyone to listen. It’s a place where being heard is part of the therapy.

Philibert intuitively understands this. Shooting with minimal crew and sometimes alone, he lets the camera serve as a compassionate ear. Sometimes it observes two patients conversing. Other times, the camera acts as a second speaker as patients relieve their minds to the camera. They don’t expect it to say much, but one can see that talking things out does them a world of good.

With a fine eye for the simple gestures that prove the best of medicine and a rich understanding of art’s ability to provide catharsis, the observational power of On the Adamant invites viewers to reconsider how they frame approaches to mental health. The prescription, simply, is to heed the doctor’s advice: “All aboard!”

On the Adamant opens in theatres including Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on March 15.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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