A key sequence near the start of Katell Quillévéré’s Heal The Living involves a stretch of road becoming ocean. Seventeen-year-old Simon (Gabin Verdet) and his friends are driving home after an early morning’s surf. One moment, their van powers across tarmac; the next, dark waves roll majestically on all sides, causing a tragic accident with an aftermath that will touch everyone to come. Adapted from Maylis de Kerangal’s 2014 novel Mend The Living, which was longlisted for the Booker International Prize, Quillévéré’s melodrama about intersecting lives pivots around those who need medical care and those who provide it. All the characters orbit around either Simon, who spends most of the film on life support, or Claire (Anne Dorval), a fiftysomething former violinist with a weak heart.
What sounds on paper like a corny medical drama is never less than engrossing. Despite choosing a setting loaded with physical and emotional pain, Quillévéré doesn’t play for easy tear-jerking scenes. She’s interested in the jigsaw of how human beings connect and the mechanics of hospital life.Part of the fascination of this film is feeling like a fly on the wall during transplant procedures. At times, it has the feel of a documentary, like when you see a human heart being packed on ice and taken onto a private plane. This attention to detail strengthens the emotional wallop, especially when Quillévéré allows her story to meander. It’s particularly charming when the sombre and kind Dr Rémige (played by A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim) is found watching YouTube videos of birds during a break.
Every character, no matter how small, is given a moment to be private and complex, so no one’s defined purely by their role as doctor or patient. Quillévéré shows poise in managing each human thread and, at precisely chosen moments, creates breathtakingly emotional climaxes that hit hard.
Words by Sophie Monks Kaufman
- Director: Katell Quillévéré