Television: The answer is blowing in the trees

True Stories

Channel 4

It's hard to be matter-of-fact if you're a French filmmaker. Behind your every shot there lurks a tradition of such poetry, such lyricism, such beauty and such nonsense. Take, for example, a simple shot of treetops shaking in the breeze, with or without rain-soaked foliage and/or starlings and/or croaking crows. Is it a breathing space? Is it a pause for thought? Is it a meditation on being in the existential sense?

The treetops shook more than once in Every Little Thing, a French-made documentary shown as part of Channel 4's . Presumably, they belonged to the grounds of La Borde, the psychiatric clinic in central France which the film was all about. La Borde, a voiceover tells us, "has no walls, no uniform staff and no regular routines; founded in 1953, it aims to give its patients asylum in the literal sense". Every summer, residents and staff put on a play. This year, the play is Operette by Witold Gombrowicz, chosen by Marie, a former actress on the clinic staff; and it's pretty strange. "Christmas on the balcony/ Easter on the chimney/ In April keep your clothes on/ The sun is not that warm," goes one monologue.

The camera follows rehearsals - which happen in the forest clearing - with some perfunctory fly-on-wall work around residents' day-to-day life and duties inside. In contradistinction to the voiceover, life at La Borde did not appear to be particularly antinomian. Residents were mopping floors and folding towels and chopping parsley like people with rotas do. Also, there is nothing especially "unorthodox" - in Britain at least - about treating people with mental illnesses in this sort of environment. It's philosophically mainstream - it just costs a lot of money.

Sadly, however, this film was banal, and badly faithed in a curious, ask-me-no-questions-and-I'll-tell-you-no-lies sort of way. The first problem has to do with mental illness as metaphor, and with the fact - quite unacknowledged in the film - that for you, me and everyone else watching, this is not the first time we've had cause to think about psychiatric patients putting on plays. It happened in The Marat/Sade, especially in Peter Brook's famous Theatre of Cruelty version. Bits of it happened in Titicut Follies and My Dinner With Andre too.

Now all these things are of Sixties origin. As pieces of art they are unfashionable; and as ways of looking at people with mental-health problems, they really won't do at all. "Madness", "lunacy", "raving", "insane": psychiatry has now banished all such unhelpfully evocative images, replacing them with a quieter, more provisional language of "syndromes" and "disorders"instead. Which is an excellent development for everyone, except for the sort of artists who rely on old-fashioned madness imagery as a metaphorical resource. Eg Nicholas Philibert, the maker of this film. He doesn't exactly romanticise the condition of the people he films. But he doesn't not romanticise them either.

The film is full of images which traditionally signify some sort of profundity: the aforementioned tree stuff; long, static shots of one or another La Borde resident looking vacant and/or distressed. Now as we know, one reason such souls are free to act in plays and stuff these days is because the more troublesome manifestations of their problems can be controlled by medication. And to be fair, we do briefly see a young woman at work in the dispensary. And we do see a woman drop her work to go for her "injection". Perhaps the idea was to be sensitive and subtle. But a quick up-front explanation of how drug therapy fits into the La Borde regime would have been more to the point.

One resident, Michel, proclaims himself an admirer of the Gombrowicz text. "The dialogue doesn't make any sense - I like that," he says. Aaaah, I almost felt the filmmaker delightedly sighing - a compliant subject at last. A little later, Michel sits on his bed wearing an African ceremonial mask. Then he takes it off and the camera lingers on his features, "to reveal an equally impenetrable face behind it," as one press article has said. Michel, you see, has a sense for the sort of moments that tend to go down best.

Then Michel does a tidy little rant about how "you made me ill - society in general". His eyeballs were drooping as he spoke. "Are you drifting?" Philibert asks. "A bit. But I'm at La Borde. I'm not afraid ... We're among ourselves. And you're among us too, for the moment ... "

RESULT! I'm almost sure I heard the filmmaker shrieking. A church bell tolled like in the Stella Artois advert; a composition of rain-spattered garden chairs was seen. And Michel looked like he was about to fall asleep.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style