Heal the Living Review
Katell Quillévéré's adaption of French novel Mend the Living focusses on affairs of the heart in every sense of the word. Renamed as Heal the Living, the writer/director undertook the tricky task of shifting away from an unconventional central character - which was literally a human heart - to create an ensemble piece concentrating on the lives connected to it. For the most part, it is a beautifully rendered look at the contrasting experiences of those involved in the transplant of a human organ.
The film opens by breathing in the energy of youth, following young seventeen-year-old Simon (Gabin Verdet) as he leaves his girlfriend's side in the early hours of the morning. He cycles down the empty winding streets and is quickly joined by another young boy, racing alongside on his skateboard. Soon enough we are watching Simon and his two friends running into the early morning tide, surfboards in hand, the constraints of the world left anchored behind on the shore. This sequence, in particular, epitomises the stylish look of the film as a whole, shot in crystal clear slow motion as they cut through the water.
A team of doctors soon form part of the wider picture, readying themselves to save the life of young Simon, who was fatality injured in a car crash on the return journey home from the beach. Dr Revol (Bouli Lanners) leads the team, assisted by his consultant Thomas (Tahar Rahim). They have the unenviable task of breaking the news to Simon's mother Marianne (Emmanuelle Seigner) and later his father. Simon is kept alive only by machines, but out of tragedy arrives the opportunity to help another patient in need of a new organ.
These stories flow fluidly between each other, easily changing perspectives, drawing the camera in close for us to share in the heightened emotion. In many ways the film is an ode to the medical profession and the miracles that appear to be performed so routinely. Moving into the third act a second team of doctors are introduced, as they ready Claire (Anne Dorval) ahead of her heart transplant. The surgery scenes are detailed yet clinical enough to temporarily remove all feeling by focusing on the unfathomable skill these surgeons possess.
There is a nagging feeling however, that the further Quillévéré digs into the details of her characters lives, the more manipulative it starts to become. A more varied score could have helped in that regard, rather than relying on the same melancholic piano piece to appear almost on cue. That aside, there is no mistaking that with such high stakes at play, you cannot help but be affected the plight of Simon and Claire and their two families.
With so many characters invested into the journey of a solitary beating heart, Quillévéré does well to realise each one without ever compromising the whole. It remains a complex tale, both physically and emotionally, told with clarity thanks to strong visual and storytelling craft. Simply put, it is a story of life, love, and death and the delicate space that exists between all three.