Heal the Living: The transmigration of a heart
by Fabien Lemercier
- VENICE 2016: Katell Quillévéré successfully pulls off a moving and enthralling adaptation of the novel by Maylis de Kerangal, which was showcased at Venice and is in competition at Toronto
As everyone knows, human nature boils down to two phenomena: life and death. And one of the primordial driving forces of existence is the heart, which sets the rhythm of our lives whilst acting as a sound box for our emotions. If it stops beating, everything stops, but if it carries on beating, life keeps marching forward, even if it is in another body. This is the subject matter seized upon by Maylis de Kerangal in Heal the Living [+see also:
interview: Katell Quillévéré
film profile], a successful novel that has now been turned into an engaging film by Katell Quillévéré.
Unveiled in the Orizzonti section of the 73rd Venice Film Festival, before it goes on to feature in the competitive Platform section of the Toronto Film Festival, the 3rd feature film by the talented director of Love Like Poison [+see also:
film profile] (Directors’ Fortnight 2010) and Suzanne [+see also:
interview: Katell Quillévéré
film profile] (shown in Critics’ Week at Cannes in 2013) is a skilfully directed piece that strikes a smooth balance between the very strong potential for well-controlled drama, highly precise scientific and surgical details, and an array of metaphysical questions that viewers are free to interpret in their own way. A piece of mastery that nonetheless looked challenging on paper, given that the story of a heart transplant and all the links in the chain that it involves could just as easily have slipped into melodrama or medical documentary. The director overcomes these obstacles with a skill that is perfectly adapted to the aim of the story, with intimate and atmospheric scenes (alluding in particular to the exceptional opening of the film and its surfing scenes, which serve as a prelude to an accident that is no less brilliantly directed) that alternate with moments of joy and the technical side of the organ donation circuit (in particular, operations to remove organs, which are scrutinised here with striking realism).
Recounting all the stages in the journey of the heart of Simon (played by revelation Gabin Verdet), a young victim of a serious road accident who is left brain-dead, to the body of Claire (the radiant Anne Dorval), a fifty-something woman whose life depends on a defibrillator, Heal the Living paints the impressionistic yet profound portrait of several families: that of the hospital staff (played by, among others, Tahar Rahim, Bouli Lanners, Monia Chokri, Dominique Blanc, Karim Leklou and Alice de Lencquesaing), that of Simon (his parents are played by Emmanuelle Seigner and Kool Shen, who have very difficult roles as parents reeling from the shock of the death of their child and facing the delicate yet urgent request to accept or refuse that their son’s organs be donated) and that of Claire (her sons are played by Finnegan Oldfield and Théo Cholbi, and her former lover by Alice Taglioni). A huge number of characters which are nonetheless all successfully brought to life by a screenplay written by the director with Gilles Taurand, which offers moments of relief as the audience swirls around the key element of the plot, this heart waiting for a body, suspended between life and death, waiting in the wings to run a long-distance race which passes over a bridge supporting a chain of human solidarity reaching beyond death.
A French-Belgian co-production, Heal the Living is being sold internationally by Films Distribution.
(Translated from French)