FILM: Heal The Living (Katell Quillévéré - Glasgow Film Festival 2017)

FILM: Heal The Living (Katell Quillévéré – Glasgow Film Festival 2017)

A “gruelling, intense, draining, graphicmasterpiece”. That is what the notes on Heal The Living by Katell Quillévéré say. Based on the novel by Maylis de Kerangal, it’s one of the great highlights of the festival so far. When something manages to be both beautifully poetic, profound, yet also emotionally savage, it is very special indeed. Heal The Living is all those things, and more.

Quietly, sensitively yet gloriously shot by Tom Harari, in some ways it reminds of Magnolia. Not in the eccentricity or sheer scale of that sprawling epic – this is a far more intimate affair – but in the visceral emotions on show and entwining of hitherto separate lives. There’s a completely immersive wave of questions and sorrow from characters whose lives become so close yet strangely out of reach.

What is it about? Essentially, it’s very simple. Almost high-concept in its conceit. A small group of surfers have (an incredibly realised) car crash – some parents have to decide whether to donate organs from the most gravely injured. To heal the living. That’s it. But nobody ever wants to make that decision. And that is where the film takes us – to the questions we may all have to face at one time or other. And it takes us in a sensitive but utterly unrelenting way. There is little escape from the true horror of that situation. And yet, and yet…there is always that word in the title – heal. That is the choice.

There are stand-out performances across the board. From the ill-fated young lovers, Simon and Juliette played by Gabin Verdet and Galatéa Bellugi, to the doctors attempting to negotiate the gut-wrenching journey. The parents themselves – Emmanuelle Seigner and Bruno Lopes (aka rapper Kool Shen) – are horrifically affecting in the tension and distress they endure. Their scenes, in particular, are almost too much to bear. As it should be. Hard to think of recent performances showing such desolation so vividly.

It may seem trite to mention, but the score from Alexandre Desplat is simple, yet perfect. Not in the least overblown, as can sometimes be the case, it marries perfectly with the majestic cinematography from Harari. Surfing has rarely been portrayed so lyrically or in such an impressionistic way on screen.

A heart-breaking film, but a true one. Quillévéré has managed to make Heal The Living into something that takes you places without feeling the slightest bit manipulative. It’s a series of snapshots of lives thrown into turmoil but with no escaping the hard decisions that need to be made. Decisions which different characters approach from radically different viewpoints. How does a doctor do their job whilst dealing with a family whose world has fallen in? How does a prospective donee feel about carrying on with, essentially, alien material inside? Material which, of necessity will forever be anonymous yet could hardly be closer.

Superlative filmmaking, from script to direction, to acting, to everything. Tough watch, testing, but real. Life is precarious and can spin and flip in an instant, and those transitions have rarely been presented so acutely. Unflinchingly and powerfully raw, but also elegant and sensitive; Heal The Living shows it all too clearly. If indeed also exquisitely beautifully.


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