Comforting and carefully observed French medical drama starring the trusty François Cluzet
There is nothing unpredictable about Irreplaceable (Médecin de campagne) and yet it is so carefully observed and acutely felt that it emerges as a tremendously engaging, old-fashioned drama. A good deal of the success is down to the performance of French stalwart François Cluzet who beautifully underplays his role as Jean-Pierre Werner, a country doctor who has become indispensable to the people and the area he serves.
Werner could so easily have been a lazy Doc Martin-style grump but Cluzet makes him caring, devoted and completely convinced that he knows what is best. Werner's handwritten filing system is faster than any computer. He defends a 92-year-old man's right to stay in the comfort of his own home rather than be overtreated in a soulless hospital. He is a bit of a dinosaur but also someone devoted to his flock. It is the small gestures and unfussy attention to detail in Cluzet's performance that proves so winning.
When Werner is diagnosed with an inoperable tumour, he tries hard to carry on and keep the news to himself. He must reluctantly accept the assistance of recently graduated doctor and former nurse Nathalie Delezia (Marianne Denicourt). Naturally, she has a lot to learn and he is not initially welcoming, but gradually a mutual respect develops as Nathalie begins to appreciate the commitment required from a country doctor.
Medic turned film director Thomas Lilti ensures that Irreplaceable feels true to its world and you suspect that all the patients and local characters are played by non-professional actors. In the era of an ageing population, bureaucratic targets and shrinking resources, Lilti champions compassion and the need for a human touch, lending a little political edge to what otherwise feels like a comforting bath of a film.
Limited release from Fri 13 Jan.