Heal the Living – Film Review by Emily Elphinstone
Director: Katell Quillévéré
Writers: Maylis De Kerangal (novel), Katell Quillévéré (screenplay)
Stars: Tahar Rahim, Emmanuelle Seigner, Anne Dorval
Based on the novel Réparer les Vivants (Mend the Living) by Maylis de Kerangal, Heal the Living describes itself as three interwoven stories connected by a single organ transplant. But it is the story of adventurous teenager Simon (Gabin Verdot) and the terrible decision his parents are faced with following a tragic accident; that provide the real soul of the film.
As with her previous work Suzanne and Love Like Poison, director Katelyn Quillévéré once again creates a heartbreakingly beautiful piece; most striking in the poetic early scenes of Verdet cycling through empty pre-dawn streets. Contrasted with this early vision of freedom, the film gives a thoughtful and sympathetic insight into the process of organ donation, and the care given to the deceased; without shying away from the cold reality involved. But while much of the film is delicately moving, the decision to include a subplot of the organ recipient as well as its donor feels a little trite; too neat and deliberately emotional to feel truly organic.
The quietly controlled cast, including Tatar Rahim as the thoughtful young surgeon Thomas, and Emmanuelle Seigner as the grieving mother; create a multitude of small and delicate moments. The economy of emotion transmits the characters’ motivations and a sense of context, without relying on over-complicated exposition. Alongside Tom Harari’s cinematography, Daniel Bevan’s production design, and a score by the legendary Alexander Desplat; this creates a beautifully unified whole.
By presenting the film as three intertwined strands, elements of the story do not feel entirely necessary. But as a whole, Heal the Living manages to create a mournful yet uplifting spirit; remaining gloriously engaging despite its flaws.