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Heal the Living

May 14, 2017

Heal the Living (2016)
Director: Katell Quillévéré
Actors: Anne Dorval, Tahar Rahim, Emmanuelle Seigner

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Synopsis: Simon (Gabin Verdet), a teenager full of life, is left brain dead after a catastrophic car accident. The race is on to see if his parents can be convinced to donate his healthy heart for organ donation – specifically to sickly, middle-aged mother-of-two, Claire (Anne Dorval).

Review: This staggeringly moving and accomplished film does the seemingly impossible: it projects its very political, polemical message (the championing of the organ donation scheme) through utterly organic dramatisation; even deftly sensualising the whole moral of the practice – the “heal the living” of the film’s title.

It’s this dichotomy of the cleverness of the film’s manipulation, yet the artfulness of its method, that is so compelling. Selecting a donor who was at his most virile and life-affirming – a fun-loving, romantic teenager – assists director Katell Quillévéré’s rhetorical attack, and in one of many beautiful scenes that sensualise the preciousness of his life (when he goes surfing on the day of his death is another of them), his mother processing the news that his brain damage is irreversible is juxtaposed to a gorgeous extended tracking shot that lionises his exuberance when he cycled all the way to the top of the hill in his city to catch his would-be girlfriend while she is taking a funicular.

Quillévéré taps into Michael Mann’s common signature of finding the macro in the everyday, by imposing an almost genre movie hero status on all the selfless personnel required to enact a heart transplant with the necessary urgency. Quillévéré also imbues her story with a seductive, existential scope – characters are often framed by the immensity of the metropolis or nature around them. Again, this subtly embellishes the film’s thesis of asserting the sanctity of the continuity of life.

It’s an incredibly skilful film in sum. The handheld tracking shots that are touch away from being first-person proxies suggest the precarious fatefulness connecting all the characters, and Alexandre Desplat’s emotive but unhistrionic piano score further underscores the sentiment that seeps out of this lovely ode to being alive. (May 2017)

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