Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

Dreaming of a change

HEALTHCARE / The relentless efforts to soothe patients' suffering amidst institutional challenges in a Paris hospital.
Director: Nicolas Peduzzi
Producer: GoGoGo Films
Distributor: Lightdox
Country: France

In times when being on the verge of madness (think about the war, continuous outbreaks of climate disaster, or violent attitudes of people, on the streets or in private) perfectly describes the state of affairs, Nicholas Peduzzi created an honest and provocative portrait of those who have dedicated their life to ease the pain of those most affected by it. His immersive documentary follows the protagonists face to face and reveals tangibly and in detail how they have been caught in this same wave of madness. Still, they are trying to reflect on this to give this problem a more proper name. «I am dreaming of a change…» remarks Dr Jamal Abdel Kader shortly after the film’s beginning, but by the end, the down-to-earth approach proves that not much is left to feed this dream. The film had its world premiere at the Copenhagen documentary festival CPH:DOX, where it received a Special Mention from the jury. Also the winner of the Grand Jury Prize for an independent French feature film and the Press Jury Prize at the Champs Elysées Film Festival, On the Edge will be screened at the DokuFest in Prizren, Kosovo next month.

On the Edge Nicolas Peduzzi
On The Edge, a film by Nicolas Peduzzi

The public good

The focus is on Dr Kader and the Beaujon, a public service hospital in Clichy on the outskirts of Paris. Its uniform grid facade and the ventilation pipes and fire escapes on its surface vaguely resemble the Beaubourg, the French national centre for arts and culture Georges Pompidou in the hearth of Paris. A reminder that public health service, just like support for arts and culture, was among the benchmarks of the European welfare state. Dr. Jamal grew up in one such hospital. His parents, both doctors of Syrian origins, came to France to improve their specialisations. They met in France and decided to stay. When they had Jamal and his siblings, they lived at the hospital. On the upper hospital floors, rooms for doctors, mostly foreigners, have been created. They didn’t earn a lot. Therefore, not having to pay a high rent was a good thing. Jamal remembers hanging around the hospital with other kids and how his surgeon father used to take him to the operating room.

A reminder that public health service, just like support for arts and culture, was among the benchmarks of the European welfare state.

To disturb psychiatry

Jamal, too wanted to become a surgeon. But after he did an internship in psychiatry and saw that people were shut away and «treated as if they were stupid», he felt he could do better. Actually, he says, «I wanted to disturb psychiatry.» Today, Jamal is the only psychiatrist in a 400-bed public hospital. It has 15 specialisations and an emergency department. Ever since the psychiatry department was closed, patients needing such treatment are cared for by a mobile psychiatrist, and that is him, Jamal. The film starts with a view of a hectic hospital corridor where police watch over a man acting aggressively. They have been there more than five hours, waiting before Jamal is finally called. When he arrives, he tries to establish peace between the frustrated police and the man whom the doctor believes has feigned the suicide attempt. Throughout the film, we can admire his dedication to his work, an everyday hero with an outstanding humanistic disposition. He does his utmost to soothe his patients’ pain, listen to their words, and protect them from their demons.

On the Edge Nicolas Peduzzi
On The Edge, a film by Nicolas Peduzzi


For Jamal, the most important prerequisites for mental health are good relationships with other people, and he is helping his patients (re)build these. He refuses to hold people hospitalised by force. But he is also concerned about their safety when they are on their own. In the past, he explains, the people considered «mad» were not locked away but left to travel around. Today, especially in urban environments, they are perceived as disturbing because they can’t be productive.

This compulsion to produce is leaving no one out. In the film, we see Jamal after receiving an email informing him that, in the future, the financing of psychiatry will be based on the service. Before it was financed through a given budget, small, but it wasn’t based on quantity. Now it will be worse, he says, denouncing the «logic that aims at quantifying everything», the logic that depreciates what he does. «For a doctor to remove cataracts, it only takes 15 minutes. But what I do can’t be predicted in time.»

The soundtrack was composed by Gaël Rakotondrabe, the French pianist and keyboardist. The electronic music, its dark tonalities, and hectic rhythms contribute to the atmosphere of tension and an environment in distress. It perfectly complements the narration of Jamal and his colleagues, who expose the system in which the hospital management can find personnel to erase an innocent graphite in one night but cannot arrange for a leaking tap to be repaired in months. Beaujon represents the public institutions’ failure to fulfil their function of general interest. On the Edge offers a glimpse of the global trauma of an entire society.

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Melita Zajc
Melita Zajc
Our regular contributor. Zajc is a media anthropologist and philosopher.

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