Transcendental Transplant – Katell Quillévéré’s Heal The Living (2016) – Blu-ray review
By favouring a sober, scientific treatment of the transplant process, Quillévéré avoids easy sentimentality but still stirs heart and soul.
Heal The Living
(Katell Quillévéré, 2016)
Boy has tragic car accident; the doctors have to tell his parents that their son is brain-dead and, by the way, would they consider donating his organs? Put like that, Heal The Living could be any number of medical dramas. Structurally, it even begins like an episode of Casualty, before unfurling in another, vastly more interesting and resonant direction. Because this is, simply, the best episode of Casualty there’s ever been.
Katell Quillévéré’s conceit is a simple but soulful one – to follow the film’s heart, literally so. Other movies have used the idea of an object that passes from character to character: the gun in Winchester ’73, for example, or the earrings of Madame De… Yet something about the fragility of a human heart, the ethical and emotional contours that this situation inevitably takes, makes this a moving, even humbling affair.
Not for Quillévéré the melodrama of 21 Grams, with its near-mystical sense of the ties that bind the donor and the recipient. Quillévéré finds something more miraculous in the sheer process of a transplant. Yes, this is a film that conjures up the odd vision of transcendence (the sensation of surfing a big wave, a romantic daydream in the middle of a long shift at the hospital) but only to say – isn’t the fact that a heart can be transplanted itself transcendent?
So the film gently follows the operation, first introducing Simon Limbres, the unfortunate teenager whose sporting talent and budding romance are cut brutally short in a car accident. We meet his parents and the doctors who are keeping his body alive (Tahar Rahim’s co-ordinator is the nearest this ensemble has to a central figure) and then Quillévéré takes flight, journeying from Le Havre to Paris to meet Claire (Xavier Dolan regular Anne Dorval), a middle-aged mother whose own career as a musician, and relationship with a colleague, have themselves been put on hold by a degenerative heart disease.
The threads are delicately woven, never overstated but with each character given just enough emphasis to embrace both the tangible and philosophical dimensions of their interrelation. When Quillévéré throws in even the agency who co-ordinate the logistics of matching Simon’s organs to different donors, there’s a remarkable matter-of-factness – and yet also real power to these connections.
The filming is restrained to the point of simplicity, but the weight of each cut (an apt word in this context) gives a comforting, compelling rhythm to the ritual of the transplant. There is respect and reverence for everybody along the chain. And occasionally, Quillévéré lets the shot show the view from a vehicle – the windscreen of the van in which Simon died, the airplane transporting his heart to its new owner – to underline the forward momentum, the hope and optimism that this story has even in tragedy. The extra element is a soaring, sorrowful piano score by Alexandre Desplat: remarkably, one of the best of this most agile and prolific composer.
Heal The Living is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 3 July. The only extra is a short but useful interview with Quillévéré.
Tagged French Cinema