150 Milligrams


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

La Fille de Brest
"Knudsen is magnetic as the film's relentlessly pounding heart and its easy to fall into step with her beat."

There's a formula for whistleblowing films that's hard to tangle with. A little guy or gal takes on a big bad company, lands themselves in deep water that soon reaches boiling point before, on the grounds that we would be unlikely to have heard of their struggle otherwise, emerging scalded but triumphant.

Emmanuelle Bercot, adapting Irène Frachont's book with the help of Séverine Bosschem, takes the template and gives it a good shake in her latest, 150 Milligrams, which opened 2016's San Sebastian Film Festival after premiering in Toronto. The usual elements are here but Bercot and her star Sidse Babett Knudsen - best known to British audiences as Birgitte in Borgen - inject a dose of adrenaline into this tale of pulmonary doctor Franchont, who took on a French pharmaceutical giant.

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Using a sea swimming session with her protagonist to generate tension from the start, we track Franchont as she documents problems with a patient's heart valve, heading with her into the operating theatre - that Bercot's camera treats the bloody body mechanics this scene, and an autopsy later in the film, unflinchingly adds a sharp edge and roots her film in a reality that more glossy versions of these David and Goliath stories tend to avoid. Franchont becomes convinced that a drug used routinely for diabetes and weight loss is causing fatal heart defects and sets about recruiting people to her cause.

It's easy to see why others find Franchont convincing, Knudsen portrays her with a spring in her step and an easygoing bedside manner. Interludes involving her family also avoid the usual troubled personal life cliches, showing her to be in a happy and supportive relationship with her husband Bruno (Patrick Ligardes) and her spending time with her kids, even if she is frequently multitasking with work. She is, in short, a firecracker, as her occasional explosions of inventive invective - most frequently aimed at her lead research doctor Antoine Le Bihan (Benoît Magimel) - amply demonstrate.

Scenes of research are given plenty of pace, while those in which Franchont faces regulatory committees hum with tension thanks to Bercot's attention to detail, although there is plenty of artistic license being taken with the world of journalism - the idea that a writer would have time to sit around on the phone with their subject waiting for a page to go to press is highly unlikely. The film is unecessarily sprawling at more than two hours and the scoring decidedly odd, particularly key moments that are incongruously accompanied by the skirl of bagpipes. Nevertheless, Knudsen is magnetic as the film's relentlessly pounding heart and its easy to fall into step with her beat.

Reviewed on: 17 Sep 2016
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150 Milligrams packshot
A lung specialist discovers a direct link between suspicious deaths and state-approved medicine. She fights single-handedly for the truth to come out.

Director: Emmanuelle Bercot

Writer: Emmanuelle Bercot, Séverine Bosschem, Romain Compingt, Irène Frachon

Starring: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Benoît Magimel

Year: 2016

Runtime: 128 minutes

Country: France

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