With stunning cinematography by Tom Harari and a moving score by Alexandre Desplat, every effort comes together in Katell Quillévéré’s third feature (after Love Like Poison and Suzanne) for an impactful, almost metaphysical experience.
Lyrical, well acted, and featuring lifelike surgical scenes that emphasize the marvel of the human body, the film features three intertwining stories. In the first, a family undergoes the tragic loss of a teenage son; a single mother awaits a heart transplant; and the third storyline centers on the medical professionals involved in the process of an organ transplant.
Based upon the novel by Maylis de Kerangal, Réparer les vivants (Mend the Living), the plot is simple but densely packed with emotion. The teen, Simon (Gabin Verdet), has died so suddenly his parents (Emmanuelle Seigner and Kool Shen) are still in shock, blaming themselves and each other, so that they react harshly to the first suggestion that their son’s organs should be donated.
Thomas (Tahar Rahim) is the young specialist tasked with explaining to the mourning couple that now is the rare opportunity for the medical center to use their son’s vital organs for transplants. Thomas is still very green at his job, and perhaps not much of a people person (he has a fascination with rare birds), but his job depends on his bedside manner. One wrong phrasing or tone of voice and the hope of this grief-stricken couple cooperating could go awry.
Without the use of title cards or any other prompting devices, the film smoothly crosses over to 40-something Claire (Anne Dorval from 2014’s Mommy) and her sons Maxime and Sam (Finnegan Oldfield and Théo Cholbi, respectively), both of whom are not much older than the deceased Simon. Claire and Maxime have come to Paris on a trip for two purposes: to visit Sam, who is supposed to be in college, but who has dropped out, and to meet with her cardiologist. During the appointment, Claire is given the news that her heart medications are not having their desired effect, and without a heart transplant, her outcome looks bleak. Later, Claire breaks away from Maxime to visit her former lover, Anne (Alice Taglioni), a concert pianist. Reunited with Anne, Claire confides her true feelings about her condition. Hasn’t she lived enough of a life already? Was she really that good of a person to merit a second chance?
While both families are faced with life-altering moral dilemmas, the film floats in and out of the lives of the hospital staffs, who behind the scenes are living just another day, cracking jokes and battling their own personal problems—one nurse, Jeanne (Monia Chokri), has come to work with a hickey on her neck and now must face ridicule from her coworkers. Not only do these little asides help even out the tone, they play to the theme of the fluidity of human nature, as portrayed many times through the use of superimposing different images: ocean waves or blood cells rushing through veins. These visual cues and the way the story is told are reminders of how each day is filled with life and death, and routine as well.