Heal the Living is showing in our cinema until Thursday 8 June. Ieuan Jones has reviewed it for us.
Tragedy strikes at the beginning of Katell Quillévéré’s Heal the Living, when a young man, Simon (Gabin Verdet) is involved in an accident on the way back from an early morning surf. Simon’s accident acts like a rock thrown into a pool, with the ripples affecting everyone around him while he lies unconscious. We see his parents caught in a terrible situation, not only of seeing their young son on life support, but they must also face up to a sudden and awful choice of what to do with his organs before he dies. We see the effect it has on the doctors and nurses at the hospital caring for him and his family, including an engaging performance by Tahar Rahim as his surgeon (you may remember him as the lead role in A Prophet). Finally, we are introduced to Claire (Anne Dorval), who suffers from a heart condition that is gradually worsening and so, inevitably, all of their lives intertwine.
The arrangement of parallel stories – the heart donor versus the person in need of the heart – could have come across as a clichéd film device. It is to Quillévéré’s credit that Heal the Living did not come across like this and felt much more subtle. We are introduced to Claire late in the film and only when the emotional journey of all the other characters had been well established, including some flashbacks that give us more of Simon’s background that makes him more than a body on a bed. I liked the choice of music integrated into the story as well. Claire’s story hinges on a stage performance of a piece by the composer Nils Frahm, which was very well done. And having Bowie’s ‘Five Years’ over the end credits maybe invites a little comparison between one family’s personal tragedy against the very public grief we have experienced over the past year. It is well shot, including some terrific surfing scenes right at the beginning that weave their way through the rest of the film. And it was pleasing to see something so devastating portrayed without hysteria or melodrama.