Heal the Living (4 stars)

Heal the Living

Superbly acted, meticulously detailed hospital drama from Katell Quillévéré

Showing breathtaking mastery of her medium, Heal the Living is another affectingly humane and fluidly executed drama from France's Katell Quillévéré. Her third film, after Suzanne and Love Like Poison, is an ensemble piece based on Maylis De Kerangal's novel, which illustrates the converging fortunes of a group of seemingly disparate individuals following a catastrophic car crash. The impressive cast includes Tahar Rahim, Emmanuelle Seigner and Anne Dorval.

17-year-old Simon (Gabin Verdet) is too young and wild to have even the slightest sense of his own mortality – he leaps from windows, hares blindly round bends on his bike, takes on monster waves, and sinks beneath the surface of the sea in no hurry to come up for air. Then his future is snatched away: travelling in a van on the way home from a surfing trip he drifts off into a delicious sleep, head rested on the shoulder of a pal, the road in front becoming the ocean of his dreams. His slumber is broken by an almighty smash when the vehicle careers out of control; it's all too cruel. His mother (Seigner) is devastated to learn that Simon's injuries are fatal and, still reeling from the news, has to make a decision regarding the fate of his organs.

This French-Belgian co-production presents a wonderfully credible and intricate picture of the former's health service – from medical procedures to administrative details. It's a fascination which extends to the people who staff it – those who have become inured to anguish, or are able to carry out their duties with humour, and the sensitive souls for whom the pain of each tragedy is absorbed just a little. Unlike recent films that have dealt with hospital or transplant drama (The Best of Me, Ma ma) it deftly avoids mawkish sentiment. Instead, the director's own obsession is palpable here; as we witness events through her awestruck eyes, we see the miracle of heart transplants anew.

Together with regular cinematographer Tom Harari, Quillévéré has fashioned a film that's truly beautiful to behold. It can feel frustrating as we are whisked away to meet the next character just as things get interesting, but it's testament to everyone involved that these stories are equivalently intriguing. Heal the Living is a film about death whose reverence for life can be found in every frame.

Selected release from Fri 28 Apr.

Heal the Living

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • France / Belgium
  • 1h 44min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Katell Quillévéré
  • Cast: Tahar Rahim, Bouli Lanners, Anne Dorval, Emmanuelle Seigner
  • UK release: 28 April 2017

Teenager Simon (Verdet) has no sense of his own mortality, but when he’s fatally injured in a car accident, his mother (Seigner) has to decide what to do with his organs. Wonderfully credible and humane, with intriguing stories, an impressive cast and a reverence for life which can be felt in every frame.