Heal The Living


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Heal The Living
"Anna Dorval as the transplant's recipient, Dominique Blanc's surgeon, and Emmanuelle Seigner's turn as the mother of the donor are all note-perfect."

The temptation to cliche is great and Heal The Living's subject matter - a cardiac transplant - invites phrases like 'heart-wrenching' and 'haunting' which though accurate are less than this film deserves. It's based on a novel of the same name by Maylis De Kerangal and its events unfold slowly, not quite metronomically, the occasional skipped beat a counter-point to the steady flow of its story. The only antagonists in Heal The Living are time and distance and human frailty, death in triptych.

There are moments of hypnotic beauty, small gestures of comfort documented with an omniscient kindly distance, a dawdling angelic remove. Slowly, steadily, the circumstances of a single life-saving operation are constructed.

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Startling and unflinching, this is a film that documents tiny kindnesses amongst the visceral and technical in a way that demonstrates an almost perfect simultaneity of compassion and craft such that it nearly defies description. Strong performances from its cast turn a seemingly slight set of events into something that is gripping.

Katell Quillévéré's direction is assured, equally adept in depictions of twilight surfing expeditions, of tense surgical explorations, in and among alleyways and apartments, theatres musical and operating. She shares writing credits with De Kerangal and veteran writer (and previous collaborator) Gilles Tuarand. Their efforts are partnered with an almost flawless effort in subtitling translation (at least in the version Eye for Film saw at the 2017 Glasgow Film Festival) that ably copes with some relatively abstruse vocabularies. The one oddity (merguez becomes hot dogs) is easily forgiven; the meat of this story is elsewhere.

It's hard to single out any performances, though César nominations suggest someone has tried. Anna Dorval as the transplant's recipient, Dominique Blanc's surgeon, and Emmanuelle Seigner's turn as the mother of the donor are all note-perfect, and Tahar Rahim's performance as the transplant counsellor produces one of the film's most touching moments. Even in small roles - Gabin Verdet's Simon is the all too human source of another's hope, focus of others' grief - the performances are touching.

Alexandre Desplat's score is well-used, but the sound in general is phenomenal. Environmental noises are integrated smoothly, in particular the lead-up to the accident that makes Simon's heart available. Perhaps the most striking sonic note is over the end credits - Five Years from Bowie's Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is song enough, but the semantic weight of a song about time running out from the beginning of the career of a legend now passed is, well, palpable.

At once cerebral and humane, compassionate and clinical, Heal The Living is so staggering in its emotional intensity, even honesty, that it itself rejuvenates, reaffirms - it will make your heart sore, then soar.

Reviewed on: 08 Mar 2017
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Drama about lives connected by an organ transplant.
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Director: Katell Quillévéré

Writer: Katell Quillévéré and Gilles Taurand, based on the book by Maylis De Kerangal

Starring: Tahar Rahim, Emmanuelle Seigner, Anne Dorval, Bouli Lanners, Kool Shen, Monia Chokri, Alice Taglioni, Karim Leklou, Finnegan Oldfield, Théo Cholbi, Alice de Lencquesaing, Gabin Verdet, Galatéa Bellugi, Titouan Alda, Andranic Manet

Year: 2016

Runtime: 103 minutes

Country: France, Belgium

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