François Cluzet, Marianne Denicourt in The Country Doctor (Distrib Films US/Icarus Films)

The international title for The Country Doctor is Irreplaceable. Neither title is particularly noteworthy, but the latter embodies the film’s themes so much better. A country doctor believes he is the only one who can take care of the patients in his little village in western France, but when his own health endangers his ability to practice medicine, he comes to terms with his irreplaceability should he no longer be able to serve the town to which he’s so devoted.

Jean-Pierre (François Cluzet) is diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, but his doctor and boss, Michel Norès (Christophe Odent), tells him that with chemotherapy and rest, he may have a chance. Yet Jean-Pierre refuses to slow down or accept help. Norès, however, sends Nathalie (Marianne Denicourt), another physician whose only experience is working in a city hospital. Reluctantly, Jean-Pierre begins to show her the ropes, playing pranks on her as he sends her into geese-invested yards and to deal with surly patients. They clash on approach, as Nathalie often wants to the take the quick and convenient approach. Jean-Pierre’s personal relationship with his patients gives him the upper hand at first, but his devotion to them complicates his role as physician. Meanwhile, Nathalie slowly begins to gain the locals’ trust (some even prefer her), and Jean-Pierre eventually admires her approach and perhaps even develop feelings for his new coworker.

The first half is slowly paced, and the overarching narrative is hard to piece together. It isn’t until about two-thirds into the film, when the village hosts a line-dancing night, that the audience sees the allure of the quirky small town. (One of the locals asks Nathalie to join in his “laughter yoga” course.) Later on, in a more emotional scene, a local musician plays a cover of “Hallelujah” while the townsfolk dance and sing along. It’s significant in light of Leonard Cohen’s death this past year and also highlights the town’s camaraderie, something that isn’t really evident at first.

Cluzet’s performance, in this scene and throughout, is wonderful. He balances lightheartedness with profound sadness and fear of his diagnosis and the prospect of leaving behind people who need him. The Country Doctor, though, becomes a more compelling drama when the focus is not just on Jean-Pierre and Nathalie but on the rapport they have with the villagers. It takes almost the entire movie to get to that point, but then it really shines as a solid, expressive drama about community.

Directed by Thomas Lilti
Released by Distrib Films US/Icarus Films
French with English subtitles
France. 102 min. Not rated
With François Cluzet, Marianne Denicourt, Isabelle Sadoyan, Felix Moati, Christophe Odent, and Patrick Descamps