France 2 broadcasts on Wednesday, as part of the program “Infrarouge”, an immersion in the daily life of a school nurse. This documentary sheds an edifying light on the key role of these caregivers with students in the throes of change. Interview with the director, Delphine Dhilly.
Treating small ailments as well as major distress is often the mission of school nurses. A task that goes beyond their primary function. This is what Delphine Dhilly reveals, who set up her camera in a college in a rural town in Aube, and followed the work of nurse Melissa Catanoso in her documentary entitled school nursebroadcast on France 2 on Wednesday April 12*.
Without an interview or comment, the director slipped into the intimacy of the relationships that are forged between the nurse and college students in the grip of various torments such as school harassment, family tumults or transformations linked to adolescence. . Delphine Dhilly returns for franceinfo on this delicate filming.
Franceinfo: Why did you become interested in school nurses?
Delphine Hilly: During the Covid-19 period, France 2 invited me to explore this subject and it immediately touched me a lot. I also agreed to do it because I realized that the place where the school nurse sees the children in the college is a place really apart: there are no parents, no teachers, no CPE ( the main education adviser). This space is totally dedicated to listening to and observing adolescence in all its chaotic moments. At first, I didn’t know if I was going to shoot in a college or a high school, but we realized that the children in college gave themselves up more easily and that it would be easier to be in a form of intimacy. In high school, there is a lot more mistrust and postures.
We wanted, with Blandine Grosjean, the film’s producer, that the shooting takes place in the countryside. This imposed itself, perhaps because we both grew up in the provinces. I chose Champagne, in the Grand Est region where I was born. I don’t really know how to explain it, but I wanted to do a rural chronicle. But what was also decisive for the film was the meeting with Melissa, the school nurse that we follow.
How did you meet this nurse?
I met her thanks to an English teacher from Troyes whom I had known during a previous shoot. She said : “I had a nurse in my high school who was amazing, now she’s in middle school.” When I met this nurse, I knew right away that I had found the right person. In addition, as I filmed 20 kilometers from where I grew up, it sounded strange. I really felt like I was going back to my childhood college, even though it wasn’t. There were the same accents, the same agricultural world. I really wanted to tell about the kids there, perhaps echoing my own childhood.
Mélissa, the nurse, was she easy to convince?
First we talked a lot on the phone. I was lucky that the principal of the college, where she works, accepted, that the rectorate also gave the green light. I think that for Mélissa, this film was important, because this job, which is really crucial, she loves it. She wanted to tell it, to highlight it and show it, she was quickly convinced, to shed light on this daily work, a little hidden which we hardly ever talk about elsewhere. And then we bonded. She saw my previous films, which gave her confidence.
How did the children welcome you?
We had done a whole lot of work by telling them that it was obviously them who chose to be filmed or not. We had asked the permission of the parents beforehand. Every day, depending on the situation, we systematically asked them the question. Sometimes they would tell us: “No, there, I don’t want to” Or “there you can film me only from behind”. It was case by case. We were sometimes surprised that they agreed to be filmed when they were saying very personal things. I thought to myself in those moments that maybe they wanted to send a message. The fact that they agree to show their vulnerability, it prolonged Mélissa’s listening
We were in the period of Covid-19, they had the masks, but we were lucky enough to be able to shoot during their sports lessons, because there I could see their faces without masks and also their bodies at a time when it is in full mutation, with all its beauty and awkwardness. From 11 to 15 years old, it’s really “transformation”. That’s the beauty of middle school, because kids are changing really radically. They go from little boys playing video games to young men.
The role of school nurses seems essential…
Indeed, we often have the feeling that the nurses only take care of the little sores, such as stomach aches or headaches, which is already a lot. But they do much more than that. What is beautiful is that I discovered that this little office, which acts as an infirmary where Mélissa receives the children, is a kind of refuge where teenagers can come and indulge themselves, or even let go. Mélissa, who accompanies them, identifies the cycles during which the morale of the college students is sometimes damaged. Whether it’s because of the seasons like winter, for example, which is rather harsh in the Far East, or because of the transformation of their bodies.
What moved me was how a small place, within a college, actually collects all the issues of adolescence with its moments of great vulnerability. Having someone who takes these children seriously, no matter how serious their hurts are, that made a big impression on me. As a child, being heard like this is precious for their construction. What may seem like simple attention to “I have pain in the stomach, in the head, in the arms, in the knees…” finally tells a lot of things about our current society, in which we are not allowed to show our vulnerability.
In addition, college is a period during which adolescents are literally crushed by the norm, they play roles. I thought it was great to be able to get inside and see how Mélissa handled it all. Besides, she’s not a shrink, so it’s quite difficult for her, because she’s not trained for that at all. She does her best with her ears and her weapons.
Do you think there is a lack of nurses in schools?
Yes, the lack is glaring. I also say to myself: how is it possible to run a college or a high school without the kind of listening that these nurses bring? We shot for a year and a half (from September 2020 until April 2022), with long periods of downtime. Because in fact, Mélissa only works three days in this college, so we only shoot three days a week. The other two days of the week, she works in a primary school, which is the case for all school nurses. They are completely overwhelmed. There really aren’t enough nurses in the schools. Seeing this film, we say to ourselves that we need them everywhere, as their role is so important.
*The documentary school nurse is broadcast as part of the “Infrarouge” program on Wednesday April 12 at 11 p.m. on France 2 and france.tv.