Heal the Living review: delicately balancing life and death

A handsome teen gives up his heart - literally - in Katell Quillévéré’s impressive drama of interconnected tragic stories

Heal the Living
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Director: Katell Quillévéré
Cert: 12A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Tahar Rahim, Emmanuelle Seigner, Anne Dorval, Bouli Lanners, Kool Shen, Monia Chokri, Alive Taglioni, Karim Leklou
Running Time: 1 hr 44 mins

There are many reasons to celebrate the latest film from the smart, imaginative Katell Quillévéré. Not least among them is its ability to find optimism in a series of interconnected tragic stories. You don’t often find that in serious French cinema.

The picture begins with the death of a young man. Handsome teen Simon (Gabin Verdet) wakes up early in a city on the Channel and makes his way to the shore for a twilit surfing session. In a bitter irony, it’s not the wave riding, but the drive home that kills him. Following a terrible crash, he is brought to a hospital and declared to be brain dead.

The delicately judged scene between the doctor (a surprisingly homely Tahar Rahim) and the boy’s ruined parents (Emmanuelle Seigner and Kool Shen) is typical of a consistently disciplined drama. The surgeon has the wretched task of asking if they would allow their son’s organs to be donated. The parents initially take offense, but later return to give their agreement.

Elsewhere, a middle-aged woman (the great Anne Dorval from Xavier Dolan's Mommy) is grappling with the advanced stages of a heart complaint. She watches ET with her sons. She makes a trip to hear a piano recital and has to ask an usher to carry her to the circle.


At this stage the film's direction will be clear to any sensible viewer, but Quillévéré, director of the undervalued Suzanne, resists the temptation to give in to a fist-pumping, five-hankie denouement. The potential transplant is used as a vehicle to remotely connect a collection of subtly drawn characters. A few brief flashbacks bring Simon to life again and allow us to thank him for the gift he has accidentally given. Monia Chokri has a touching, smallish role as a lonely nurse.

Heal the Living is not heavy with plot. The opening act drifts slowly towards its resolution without laying on the melodrama. The characters are rarely explicit in their expression of fears and aspirations.

Featuring a lovely score by Alexandre Desplat, Quillévéré’s film succeeds as a melancholy celebration of the invisible threads that bind us. Worth seeking out.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist