Since 2013, the law in France says that anyone admitted to a psychiatric hospital against their will must have a hearing before a judge within 12 days to determine if their stay should be extended. Raymond Depardon received permission to attend and film these hearings at a facility in Lyon for 12 Days, which showcases ten different people awaiting judgment as to whether or not they’ll be given freedom or a prolonged stay.
With only some brief glimpses of the outside world in between hearings as an exception, Depardon keeps things within the hearing room itself and relies on a simple setup for each subject: a wide shot of the room, and a shot reverse shot structure between patient and judge as they discuss the case. 12 Days makes for compelling viewing at first, but as time goes on it becomes apparent that Depardon has no interest in anything but observing this particular institution operating as it’s supposed to. The subject matter and distanced approach to filming recalls Frederick Wiseman’s work, but Wiseman uses editing and form to gradually build a thesis out of his footage. Depardon doesn’t really have a point to make here, preferring to dwell on the tension of each case’s proceedings, which can only sustain the film for so long.
Depardon’s film generates questions about the trial system itself, the procedure, and how effective this particular institution’s methods may be in treating mental health, but they’re never entertained. 12 Days exists within one very specific context to look at issues that demand a bigger scope, and while the film is technically accomplished, by the end of its brief runtime it leaves a lot to be desired.