21.1.18

A Film a Week - Heal the Living / Réparer les vivants

The opening of the film is a celebration of life in its purest form. A number of teens cycle and skateboard to get together in the dead hours of night, and then they take a road-trip to ocean where they enjoy some early-morning surfing. However, the title Heal the Living reminds us that something sinister is about to happen, and so it does when a dream-like shot of the road slowly converting into the ocean ends in a crash. One of the teens, Simon (newcomer Gabin Verdet), was careless enough not to have his seatbelt buckled so he ends up brain-dead on a life support.

Soon enough his parents (Emmanuelle Seigner and a rapper Kool Shen) will have to face the harsh truth about their son being essentially dead, laid out by head neurologist (Boulli Lanners), and a dilemma suggested by organ donation consultant Thomas (Tahar Rahim). The moment might not be right, it rarely is, but Simon is an ideal candidate for donation: young, healthy and unfortunate enough to have no chance of coming back to life. Simultaneously, a musician named Claire (Canadian actress and Xavier Dolan’s muse Anne Dorval) suffers from a heart condition and can die any moment so she moves into an apartment across the street from the hospital and tries to say goodbye to her college-age sons (Finnegan Oldfield and Théo Cholbi), as well as to her former lover (Alice Taglioni).

The two stories in two towns are connected by Simon’s heart and a number of medical personnel, including transplantation specialists, middle-men from a national service, doctors and nurses from Simon’s and Claire’s narrative. It seems as a template for a “hyperlink” melodrama in the style of Crash or some early Inarritu-style “life is death and death is life” New Age truism or even an episode of a doctor soap-opera, but the intentions of the director Katell Quillévéré (Suzanne) could not be more different. Adapting the book by Maylis De Kerangal together with her co-writer, veteran Gilles Taurand (responsible for, among others, Lea Seydoux vehicle Sister), Quillévéré aims to show how a heart transplantation can be a complex process on both levels, physical (it involves a number of highly trained staff, each of them being their own person with their own troubles, and two complicated procedures, here shown in naturalistic fashion) and metaphysical (a life being transferred from person to person, a dead person keeps living through the organs donated to another, unknown person).

It works on both levels thanks to commitment to details and measured approach to emotionally charged material that keeps it from slipping into over the top sentimentality. The details including the daily routine of the doctors, where they sleep during the long hospital hours and what they watch or listen to relax, a nurse new to the job (Monia Chokri of A Taste of Ink) fantasizing about a hot randez-vous in her alone time in elevator and the piano concerto, just to name some, might be taken directly from the book, but Quillévéré handles them with care and discretion. Every person in the film seems deeply human and humane, even though the characters seem to be more sketched than deep.


Quillévéré gets a lot of help here from her regular collaborators editor Thomas Marchand and DoP Tom Harari, making Heal the Living smooth and lyrical experience (especially in the flashback scenes about Simon courting his girlfriend Juliet that are full of life like any young love is), while the piano-heavy score by Alexandre Desplat is sometimes overwhelming and even a bit over the top.