A heartbreakingly beautiful film, "Heal the Living", demonstrates the immense power of selfless giving. Director Katell Quillévéré, who co-wrote the adapted screenplay, based on Maylis De Kerangal's novel, with Gilles Taurand, has crafted this important story of loss and rebirth with the marvelous score of the master composer Alexandre Desplat.
"Heal the Living" begins with 17-year-old Simon (Gabin Verdet) slipping out of his girlfriend's bedroom window in the early a.m. to join two of is friends for a morning of surfing in his hometown of Le Havre, France. A terrible car accident on the way home sends Simon to the hospital in a coma.
Upon the arrival of his estranged parents, Marianne (Emmanuelle Seigner) and Vincent (Kool Shen), the chief surgeon, Pierre Révol (Bouli Lanners), informs them that Simon is officially brain dead and being kept alive by machines. Medical specialist, Thomas Rémige (Tahar Rahim), undertakes the task of discussing organ donation with Simon's parents, who are at first horrified by the thought. Reflecting on Simon's active life and generous personality, they decide that this is what Simon would choose, and consent.
In Paris, a single mother, Claire (Anne Dorval), who has two college-age sons, has been told by her physician that she must have a heart transplant. Daunted by the enormity of such an operation, she turns to an ex-lover (Anne Alice Taglioni) for support. It is soon revealed that Simon's heart is a match, and under the careful guidance of Thomas and a talented team of medical experts, Claire is given the gift of new life.
For whatever reason, the French seem to do a far better job with these types of films. Perhaps it's their ability to be more forthright in situations such as these, and far less maudlin. "Heal the Living" is a celebration of life. I'm afraid Hollywood would turn it into an indictment of riding without a seatbelt. But, I digress ---
Though their roles are rather brief, Seigner and Shen are incredibly moving as the overwhelmed parents charged with such a momentous decision. It is perhaps easy to think how we would react in such a dilemma, but when actually faced with the death of a child --- and the immediacy of organ donation --- who really knows what one would decide?
Rahim is superb as the coordinator who guides Marianne and Vincent through this terrible time, and vows to make Simon whole again after the harvesting of the organs. He gives Thomas just the right amount of empathy and sympathy without rampant emotions. In one scene, Thomas is caught staring at his computer, but instead of what we may expect is pornography, he's watching a video of a beautiful rare bird --- a subtle insight into the soul of this sensitive young man.
The fragile Claire is portrayed vividly by Dorval. She may be weakened by her heart, but she is determined, and strongly defiant, when she is told she must ready herself for surgery before seeing her youngest son. Hers is a quiet, lovely performance, much like Isabelle Huppert in "Things to Come" from 2016.
Desplat's original music serves to make "Heal the Living" even more meaningful. It's a gorgeous score for a graceful cinematic experience.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
Clearly the most devastating experience in the life of any parent is to outlive their children. When their son Simon is declared brain dead after a car accident, parents Marianne (Emmanuelle Seigner) and Vincent (Kool Shen) must decide if their son's organs are to be donated.
"Heal the Living" is an extraordinary film, not just about organ donation, but it also examines the conflicted mindset of a middle-aged woman who is in desperate need of a heart transplant. At times the film plays like a documentary as we are privy to close-ups of what an actual heart removal, transporting and insertion is like when placed into a living human.
This is not a film for the squeamish, although it shouldn't be overlooked for that reason. Hide your eyes, if you must, at the most authentic moments of the operations, but know that "Heal the Living" is a sensitive and powerfully emotional film showcasing an amazing science.
Hospital employee Thomas (Tahar Rahim) is tasked with facing the anguished parents, explaining the procedures, and finally asking if they are considering organ donation. When Simon's (Gabin Verdet) mother pleads with Thomas "Please don't take his eyes", it's one of those movie moments that evokes great sympathy. But when Thomas whispers into Simon's ear, as he lies still on the operating table, that his family is here with him, it's incredibly moving. Writer/director Katell Quillévéré scripted the movie from a novel, and she did a marvelous job.
"Heal the Living" is not a depressing movie --- initially sad, yes, but ultimately, even surprisingly, an uplifting one. Of course, when a vibrant, athletic 17-year-old's life is unexpectedly ended, it is a somber time. But when heart recipient Claire (Anne Dorval) awakens after her transplant operation, it is a movie moment that will linger in your memory long after you leave the theatre.
Opinion: See It Now!