Cannes 2023 review: État Limite (Nicolas Peduzzi)

“The harsh reality displayed in État limite is that there is nearly no one left to provide care.”

Since 2023 started, French cinema has settled in hospital wings around Paris. After Claire Simon’s Our Body and Nicolas Philibert’s Sur l’Adamant, which both screened in Berlin, Nicolas Peduzzi’s new documentary État limite (On the Edge) in the Cannes sidebar section ‘l’ACID’ (which Peduzzi was already a part of two years ago with Ghost Song) is the latest film to show how people are received, treated and (possibly) cured in those places. This focus on the healthcare system can be the expression of an underlying concern about the current state of French society, in need of care. The harsh reality displayed in État limite is that there is nearly no one left to provide this care – the main character, Jamal Abdel Kader, stands as the only graduate psychiatrist for an entire hospital.

Emblematically, the film opens with his character’s absence. He is nowhere to be found when needed for an emergency, because he is withheld by another situation. Once he appears, the camera operator has to run in his wake so as to keep up with his pace for the remainder of the movie. Jamal rushes from one case to another, but when in the presence of a fellow human being in pain, he is ready to take all the time in the world in order to, in his own words, “create a non-toxic environment” where that person could start to get better. By doing so, Jamal places himself in conflict with the ongoing general politics, which aim for a medical system every day more cost-effective. He does so knowingly; moreover, he sees no problem in discussing it openly with his fellow workers and with Peduzzi himself.

Jamal is an outstanding character for the movie, due to his ability to take a step back, reflect upon the struggle between his work ethics and his quickly degrading work conditions, and express his thoughts in a clear and sound way. Seeing him kindly interact with his patients, brought to him after a suicide attempt or by the police, is as awe-inspiring as it is to listen to him discourse about the current state of the healthcare system. His words as much as his actions become exhibits in his case against the dehumanization forced on us by the economic system – public hospitals being a severe case of something experienced in so many workplaces, customer services and civil services. We are reduced to predefined boxes and standard functionalities, and therefore we become interchangeable and expendable. As Jamal is told by the psychiatrist he turns to: the people in charge “do not care at all if the patients die, or even if you die”. Under these circumstances, where is the limit, what are the solutions? In a melodramatic work of fiction, it would have been a resignation, or even a suicide or a sudden burst of violence. In Peduzzi’s documentary film, it is nothing more than the long overdue end of a workday, and the not long enough pause before the next.