Nicolas Philibert b. 1951
Every Little Thing (1996)
Duration: 99 minutes

La Moindre des choses

Director: Nicolas Philibert
Year: 1996
Country: France

Production co.: Les Films d’Ici/La Sept Cinéma
Producer: Serge Lalou
Screenplay/Editor: Nicolas Philibert
Photography: Katell Djian, Nicolas Philibert
Sound: Julien Cloquet
Music: André Giroud
In French with English subtitles

Festivals: Rotterdam, Melbourne 1997

Every summer the residents and nurses of La Borde psychiatric hospital put on a play. Over the summer of 1995, thanks to Nicolas Philibert, director of the wonderful In the Land of the Deaf, they also made a film. Every Little Thing depicts their everyday goings-on and the rehearsals leading up to a performance of a work by Polish-Argentine writer Witold Grombrowitz.

There is no narration explaining away disabilities or interpreting unusual behaviour; no music to tug at our heartstrings; no dissertation on the wonders of theatrical therapy. Instead Philibert, with gentle lyrical sensitivity, lets people usually hidden from society speak for themselves in their own peculiar ways – be it through silent movement, stream-of-consciousness speech, or the camera tracking the dance of the leaves on the trees.

We may begin as observers of people walking aimlessly around the grounds lost in their own disjointed thoughts, but Philibert draws us out of our preconceptions and into their world. It’s a world that finds joy and tenderness in articulating every emotion, good and bad: from the pleasure of pressing the keys on an accordian for the first time, to the sadness of a man shuffling slowly up to the camera only to remark, ‘I can’t take any more’, and then shuffle off again.

Then there is expression explored through drama and music. Grombowitz’s Opérette is modernist absurd theatre, the lines, ironically, more nonsensical than those of this production’s actors. When one actor is asked why he particularly likes the third act, he replies: ‘The castle is ruined, the wind blows, the lines are totally illogical... that comforts me.’

Finally we witness the afternoon performance. Set in the tranquil sun-dappled gardens, with fantastical costumes, outrageous dramatics and an added psychiatric edge, voilà! there’s magnificent and jubilant theatrical chaos. — Mark Amery