French documentary on mental illness wins top Berlin film prize

Shot over three years, the documentary takes viewers onto a Seine barge in Paris that serves as a floating daycare centre for adults suffering from a mental illness.

The French documentary “On the Adamant” — a film about a floating daycare centre in Paris for adults with a mental illness — has won the Berlin International Film Festival’s top Golden Bear prize.

Its director Nicolas Philibert said on Saturday that he was deeply touched by the jury’s decision to award the Berlinale’s top award to a documentary rather than a work of fiction.

“That documentary can be considered cinema in its own right touches me deeply,” he said. “For 40 years I have always fought for it to be seen as much.”

Shot over three years, the film follows life at a daycare centre on board The Adamant, a barge moored on the right bank of the Seine, where patients and carers interact in ways that break with what Philibert sees as the dehumanisation of psychiatry.

The 72-year-old director said that in the film, he had tried to “reverse the image” that people have of those with a mental illness and allow viewers to see “what unites us beyond our differences”.

“As we all know, the craziest people are not those we think they are,” he added.

Sofia Otero won the Silver Bear for Best Acting Performance in a Leading Role in the film ‘20,000 Species of Bees’ at the International Film Festival, Berlinale, in Berlin, Germany [Markus Schreiber/ AP]

The award for best director went to fellow French filmmaker Philippe Garrel for “The Plough”, about three siblings who are trying to keep alive the family puppeteering business after the death of their father.

Garrel dedicated the prize to his children and to French-Swiss director Jean-Luc Godard, “a great master for many of us”, who died last September.

The best leading performance prize was awarded to Spanish actor Sofia Ortero, who plays an 8-year-old child searching for identity and acceptance in “20,000 Species of Bees”.

“It is rare to see someone convey so many emotions but remain simple and shattering,” said jury president Kristen Stewart. “Especially in performances given to us by a child.”

Otero, who fought back tears when collecting the award, later told journalists she was “very grateful, very happy”.

The award for best supporting performance went to Austrian actor Thea Ehre for her role in “Till the End of the Night”, while the best screenplay went to “Music” by German filmmaker Angela Schanelec.

French cinematographer Helene Louvart received the Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution for her work on “Disco Boy”.

The 73rd Berlinale kicked off with an address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who asked artists and filmmakers to unequivocally declare their support for his country in its effort to fend off Russia’s invasion forces.

Zelenskyy, a former comedian and actor, featured prominently in Sean Penn’s film about the war in Ukraine, “Superpower,” which had its world premiere in Berlin.

The festival, which ranks alongside Cannes and Venice as one of Europe’s top cinema showcases, also highlighted antigovernment protests in Iran with new feature films and documentaries.

There were 19 films from around the world vying for this year’s Golden Bear.

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