Dir: Katell Quillevéré
103min | Drama | France
Best known for her feature debut Love Like Poison, Abidjan born Katell Quillevere’s third feature is an ambitious but tonally uneven drama that brings together the lives of two French families through an extraordinary gift.
Featuring an eclectic cast from Canada, Belgium and France, and based on Maylis de Kerangal’s novel Mend the Living, the narrative is told in two parts, the second half linked to a tragedy that unfolds in the first. The film opens with a thrilling Dardennesque escapade of surfing and skateboarding for a young French boy (a spirited debut for Gabin Verdet), and develops into a nerve-shredding struggle for survival after a spectacular accident leaves him with life-limiting injuries. Without revealing the entire story suffice to say that the final segment is a sluggish study of a ciggie puffing bisexual middle-aged woman (a thoughtful Anne Duval) who suffers degenerative heart failure culminating in a plodding medical procedural.
Although the plot is an inspiring one, the characters involved are singularly less so apart from Simon, who has the winning charisma and ebullient energy to carry the first act forward giving it considerable dramatic heft and one of the best surfing scenes ever – followed by his subsequent tragic death. There is a delightful scene, told in flashback, where we see him flirting with his girlfriend Juliette who then takes the funicular to the top of the hill, and Simon follows her on his bike, appearing at the summit to give her a romantic surprise and a really passionate kiss. His parents – played by Emmanuelle Seigner and Kool Shen – are understandably devastated by the accident but act with tremendous courage in the aftermath. After that we never see them again. Tahar Rahim plays an amiable hospital assistant who is responsible for organising the aftercare, he is also a bird fancier (or the feathered variety) who is prepared to pay over 1000 euros for a goldfinch, adding his tousled-haired charm to the otherwise bland medical staff. After the hero of the piece is killed off, the second segment feels comes as a crashing disappointment. Anne Duval fails to generate any sympathy for her character who is a one a dimensional mother who lives for her two teenage kids (Oldfield and Cholbi) and – in a bizarre twist – is also attempting to have an affair with a concert pianist (Alice Taglioni) but is perpetually too out of breath. Apart from being less dynamic or resonant, this second part is also more pedestrian with its needlessly graphic scenes of prolonged surgery feeling a little ‘de trop’ in what is essentially a drama. If you’re squeamish or anti-smoking, it’s prabablu time to call it a day at this point . MT
ON RELEASE FROM 29 APRIL | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016