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Thomas Lilti • Director

“A kind of human comedy about hospitals”


- French filmmaker Thomas Lilti talks about Hippocrates, which was popular at Cannes

Thomas Lilti  • Director

Popular as the closing film of the Critics’ Week at the 67th Cannes Film Festival (read the review) and a recent winner at the Angoulême Festival, Hippocrates [+see also:
film review
interview: Thomas Lilti
film profile
 is now hitting screens, distributed by Le Pacte. Cineuropa took the opportunity to meet its director, Thomas Lilti, who, with his second feature, manages to create a skilful blend of entertainment and social issues.

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Cineuropa: Why did you decide to set your plot at the heart of a public hospital?
Thomas Lilti:
 It’s partly autobiographical because I am a GP and I studied medicine for ten years. That’s why I wanted to tell the story of French public hospitals. But my biggest motivation was to make a kind of human comedy about hospitals, to tell the tale of the humanities, the men and women who spend close to two-thirds of their time there. My initial angle was to go behind the scenes in the building, to reveal what you don’t see when you’re ill and get sent to hospital. I didn’t want to do what the hospital series do or to make a genre film set in a hospital, to create a thriller, a police investigation, a soap opera or a love story. I really wanted to stay within the realms of reality.

The movie tackles a whole raft of issues, including some thorny ones: therapeutic intervention, the end of a patient’s life, medical malpractice, institutional dysfunction, having to resort to foreign doctors, one’s professional calling and so on.
You’re barely more than 20 years old, you end up as a junior doctor and you’re completely overwhelmed by what’s going on: the white coats are too big for our young doctors’ shoulders. Hospitals are really multifaceted places where you find yourself faced with ethical and moral issues, such as death – obviously – sickness, decisions regarding treatment, therapeutic intervention, medical malpractice... You can be confronted with all of those things on a single day. That’s day-to-day life for doctors, nurses and auxiliary nurses. If you want to make a truthful film about hospitals, a realistic, human, generous film that depicts the difficulties involved in that profession in a very affectionate and tender way, but at the same time casts a critical eye over it, it’s impossible to do without bringing up all of these subjects. But the movie isn’t a documentary; it’s a true fiction film in which lots of things happen to the main characters played by Vincent Lacoste and Reda Kateb. All of these issues are present, but they’re often only hinted at – none of them is the sole focus of the movie. It’s neither a film that aims to convey a particular message nor a film that makes judgements. 

What about the comedy angle?
Right from the start, there was this idea of making a comedy-drama film about hospitals that I hoped would be moving, human and with great depth. But at the same time, it had to be funny. Not all the time, because that’s impossible – you can’t relieve all the tension with laughter. But we needed some quirky elements because hospitals are places where very different things co-exist – death, sickness, pain and hardship – but where you can then find yourself the next minute in the middle of letting your hair down with the other junior doctors, joking around, having discussions or putting the world to rights. In the tone of the film itself, I had to try to make the audience feel exactly what you feel when you’re a doctor, that fairly brutal transition between carefree and trivial moments, and more distressing moments. Hence the blend of comedy and drama that I tried to inject into the movie.

Was the funding easy to come by?
The difficult thing right at the start was finding a producer who believed in the idea of making a movie about hospitals that distanced itself from what one “expects” from hospital films and that was realistic. At first, that was scary because people thought that I was going to make a gritty film. Then, some producers placed their trust in me (31 Juin Films), the screenplay was written and that opened the doors to funding fairly easily.

What is your next project?
I’ve written a screenplay, and I hope to shoot it in early 2015 with the same producers. It will be the story of a rural doctor in an area with poor healthcare coverage, following on from Hippocrates a little bit in terms of tone, teetering between drama and comedy, and still revolving around singular humanities and rooted in a modern-day social problem.

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(Translated from French)

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