Katell Quillévéré’s Heal The Living uses its primary theme of organ transplant to discuss life, death and existence for the people affected and the professionals who are trying to help them. It explores the multiple emotions of those on all sides of a horrible situation for the relatives, the donors and the recipients. It is a distinctly human film where the present embraces the past and paves the way for a future.
Simon (Gabin Verdet) has a simple and enthusiastic view of life in that his premise “I ride my bike,” was something that got him a girlfriend in the shape of art and literature student Juliette (Galatéa Bellugi), whom he joyfully photographs sleeping blissfully before heading off to meet his friends and then drive to the Normandy coastline in order to go surfing. After they have enjoyed time on the waves they head back home, but the car crashes and Simon, who hasn’t used his seatbelt, his youthful bravura seemingly making him fearless, is seriously injured. While his fellow surfers have minor injuries Simon suffers a brain bleed and, although he is kept alive in intensive care, eventually passes away. His mother Marianne (Emmanuelle Seigner) and estranged father Vincent (Kool Shen) learn of this situation from Doctor Pierre Révol (Bouli Lanners) who explains that “I have to tell you the truth, your son is dead.” But although he is brain dead, Simon’s heart and organs are still functioning perfectly on life-support, which leads to his parents, now reunited in raw grief, to have to make a profound decision about the future of their all but deceased son. Should they allow his organs to be transplanted to someone in desperate need of life? “Then we accept.” One such candidate is Claire Méjean (Anne Dorval), whose heart condition is seriously impacting her life to the extent that even her ability to walk is becoming a struggle. All she cares about, if a donor cannot be found, is to stay with her boys Maxime (Finnegan Oldfield) and Sam (Théo Cholbi), although she has no desire to tell Sam about her prospects and possibilities as “His exams are in two weeks, that’s what matters”. So two families face decisions and untold consequences in amidst the turmoil of life and death, emotion and deliverance.
Sobering and humane, Heal The Living is a tale of youthful joie de vivre that results in catastrophic and yet, perhaps bizarrely, optimistic consequences. Katell Quillévéré engages her audience in a number of ways to ensure she delivers a realistic drama which links normal lives with horrifying circumstances from the different perspectives of all involved. We see the sensitivity with which the doctors have to handle the situations but also that they, too, are ordinary people with emotional and relationship needs. The surgery scenes are realistic and graphic but non-gratuitous for the 12 rating. The care with which Simon’s body is treated following the removal of his organs, fulfilling the doctor’s promise to his parents, shows us the deference and respect afforded the victim of the tragic accident. The horrific car crash is depicted in a way that superimposes the car’s point of view with the surfers’ crashing waves which is at once artistic and symbolic, a technique used to link a number of situational scenes that offers perceptions in a wider context – both the normal and the extraordinary.
Moving and also uplifting in a deeply human way Heal The Living is recommended viewing as a carefully constructed drama that is filmed in both an artistic and realistic way. Extras include an interview with Katell Quillévéré.