Second Run gives us another look at another film by Nicolas Philibert – possibly the best documentary maker in operation. La Moindre Des Choses brings us into the psychiatric institute of La Borde as the patients and staff prepare for their annual play…
After kicking off their collection with Nicholas Philibert’s introspective documentary about Deaf culture (In the Land of the Deaf), Second Run have given another of Philbert’s works a second lease of life. Philibert was a relatively unknown figure outside of France until the smash hit that was Être et Avoir (To Be and To Have) brought his very particular style of work to the fore. In the present film, he takes on the very difficult task of filming the lives of people who are suffering from mental illness. During four weeks, he and his team lived at La Borde – a rather grand care centre located in a chateau in the middle of France. La Borde remains a trailblazer in the field of psychiatric therapy and part of the therapy is a focus on the arts. We arrive in the midst of preparations for the summer fete – an annual event in which the patients and the staff put on a play.
However, before we get to meet the patients, Philibert chooses to confront us with our own preconceptions by following patients from afar, looking only at their demeanour. The images are quite brutal, making us question how we would treat these people if we met them on the street. The issue of appearance and façade is also echoed in the play – is the line between sanity and insanity just a matter of being able to act in a way that society deems normal? Philibert is too savvy an operator to be didactic or sentimental, leaving it up to the audience to figure out who are the patients and who are the carers. There is actually very little discussion of illness itself – occasional shots of a patient having an injection or taking medicine are the sole reminders of this. None of the patients discuss what their illness is – probably a conscious decision on the part of Philibert as this takes away the labels, leaving solely the individual in front of us.
Philibert is without doubt one of the most interesting documentary makers out there – far from the brash anger of Michael Moore, he paints a subtle image leaving the viewer with more questions than answers. The camera in his hands seems to almost disappear leaving us to be a passive observer within the film, sharing the lives of people we would seldom meet.
The anamorphic transfer respects the original ratio of 1.66:1. The image itself lacks somewhat in sharpness but globally is satisfactory. I assume that the source materials were probably not in too great a shape but this is still very watchable.
The sound and the subtitles:
The original stereo mix is kept here with few issues. The natural problem of capturing each and every sound that is happening in an unpredictable setting is obviously sometimes an issue with some voices low in the mix due to their distance from the recording equipment but the subtitles compensate for that. The subtitles are very good, subtitling everything including the songs and attempt to translate the playing on words. It’s no simple feat but globally they come off very well.
We are given a relatively lengthy introduction by Geoff Andrew (12 mins). My major gripe with it is that it’s not really an introduction per se but rather an analysis of the film which only really makes sense viewed after the film. He also spoils a few sequences so be warned! The image for this section is average with some of the shots quite blurry and the sound only came out through the left speaker. Still aside from these technical hitches, Andrew’s contribution is excellent. We also have a detailed interview with Philibert contained inside the booklet which gives us even more background to the filming process and also clarifies Philibert’s intentions.
It is quite heartening to see the recent resurgence of documentary bring such releases to the UK and Second Run give us a decent package with a good set of extras. Philibert is without doubt one of the few living masters and his work is always compelling.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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