Documentary maker Raymond Depardon has always had a fascination for the confrontation between man and institution; especially people on the margins of society and the institution where their future is decided. For example, in ‘Delits Flagrants’ (1994) he films petty criminals at their arraignment, while ’10e Chambre, Instant d’Audiences’ (2004) is about a Parisian court where petty crime is dealt with.
The documentary ‘Urgences’ (1988) takes place within the walls of the Hôtel Dieu in Paris, in the psychiatric ward of the first aid station. People are brought there who have been arrested by the police or fire brigade or who have been referred by their doctor. In this ward, the psychiatrist on duty decides what to do with them: institution, police cell or back on the street.
That inevitably results in a cartload of human suffering. From the very beginning, we witness the flushing of a stomach filled with sleeping pills; a scene that is difficult to view. We also see a completely drunk mother who wants to see the child that has been taken from her, a man who has completely lost track and a pregnant woman who has the habit of throwing in a window every now and then.
Fortunately, not all cases are equally tragic. There is a bus driver who was so stressed by his boss and his customers that he burst into tears behind the wheel; but after he had first pulled over the bus so as not to endanger those same customers. A lonely man with a large suitcase full of spare stuff also comes for an interview. He cheerfully says that he no longer likes life. He had been caught trying to hang himself in a place where anyone could stop him: the hall of his apartment building.
As in so many Depardon documentaries, the film crew plays an important role. Both psychiatrists and clients are aware of the filmmaker and sometimes speak directly to him and his crew. Strangely enough, it gives the film a more realistic character than documentaries where the camera functions as a so-called “fly on the wall” and where contact with the film crew is avoided at all costs.
Anyone who has seen ‘Urgences’ will understand better why Depardon is so fascinated by the confrontation between people and institutions. Here people are shown at a crossroads in their lives, but a crossroads where others decide which direction it will eventually take. It makes the respect for the psychiatrists of the Hôtel Dieu all the greater. And also the respect for Depardon, who once again delivered a deeply human documentary here.