HEAL THE LIVING (2016): Review by Rachel Kastner

I was fortunate enough to see Katell Quillevere’s third feature film, Heal The Living at this year’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema festival in New York City. It is an incredibly moving medical drama surrounding the issue of organ donation: how difficult of a decision it is to decide to donate organs, and how it changes the lives of those who receive them. Both cinematically and with regards to the soundscape, Quillevere’s film was beautiful. (RAK: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Rachel A. Kastner

Heal the Living opens with three young French boys embarking on an early morning surfing adventure. It seems they’ve done this hundreds of times before. But this particular morning, one of the friends is a bit too tired as they drive home. The consequence: a fatal car crash in which one of the youngest boys (Gabin Verdet), almost loses his life. Even though he is only active in a short segment of the film, Verdet plays “Simon,” the accident victim (prior to his accident) with heart-rending innocence.

The trouble comes when his parents, “Marianne” (Emmanuelle Seigner) and “Vincent” (Kool Shen), who are separated, are informed of his awful condition. Their son has lost too much blood, and will likely remain comatose forever. The film truly begins when the doctor asks the parents the most difficult question: would they consider making him an organ donor. He is, after all, a surfer. He’s young, and his heart is so healthy; someone could really use a heart like his.

While the parents debate and philosophize about what they believe their son would have wanted, we are introduced to another family unit. A single French mother, “Claire” (Anne Doval) with a degenerative heart disease, who desperately needs a heart transplant. Although she’s terrified, she adds her name to the transplant list at the encouragement of her longtime doctor. 

While this setup may seem like your average medical show drama, Quillevere’s film is extremely new and groundbreaking in multiple ways. In story, she introduces us to hosts of secondary characters whose lives are touched, scratched, scarred and ruined by the events unfolding. There are small, quiet details that haunt the screen and those watching. We meet the young victim’s girlfriend who is experiencing the strongest pain imaginable; we learn about Claire’s two sons, who are worried their mom might never see them to adulthood. Quillevere introduces us to the host of hospital characters involved in both Simon’s life and death, and Claire’s “rebirth” when she eventually does receive a transplant. We witness Simon’s parents’ goodbyes. The tender nature that each character simultaneously embodies and is treated with, ropes audiences in. We care so much about Simon. We also want Marianne to live more than anything. The questions are hard.

Quillevere makes life and death ebb and flow both in story and on camera; her cinematography is beautiful. She brings us into the ER in a way that few films ever have before. She does not shy away from the most gruesome moments of the physical surgery. We are present the entire time, as life is transferred from one body to the next. The music composition mimics this ebb and flow of life and of the ocean, wrapping the film up in the most beautiful way. While it is no surprise that the surgery takes place, the arc of how Quillevere takes us there is the real journey of her film.

If you have the chance, go see Heal the Living. It is an extraordinarily beautiful and touching film; simultaneously dreamlike and nightmarish, light and heavy, gruesome and hopeful.

© Rachel Kastner (4/16/17) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Simon moments before his transplant.

Middle Photo: Anne Dorval as “Claire.”

Bottom Photo: Tahar Rahim stars as a transplant coordinator in Quillevere’s large ensemble cast.

Photo Credit:  A Les Films du Bélier

Q: Does Heal The Living pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?


Claire has been in a lesbian relationship in the past, and during this tenuous time in her life, she finds comfort with her old girlfriend. They rekindle their relationship after Claire bumps into her at a musical performance.

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