HEAL THE LIVING — Review by Cynthia Fuchs

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Katell Quillévéré’s Heal the Living opens with the sound of breathing. Seventeen-year-old Simon (Gabin Verdet) wakes to see his girlfriend sleeping beside him, as their breathing together creates a soothing, essential rhythm. It’s before dawn, and Simon is soon out of bed and on his way to the beach, where he and his friends will surf: as he rides his bicycle, the camera hovers and follows him, creating another rhythm, swift and lovely, when Simon’s friend — riding a skateboard — comes up beside him on the street. Together, they make their way to a van driven by a third friend, and they’re off, to the deep blue, early morning waves. Continue reading…

As Simon and his friends surf, encircled by water and in sync with its thrilling cadences, you sense a coming change. Headed home, the boys’ van crashes, but you don’t’ see it, only hear it over a black screen. The film then follows people reckoning with Simon’s death, or more specifically, his brain death, including his distraught parents, Marianne (Emmanuelle Seigner) and Vincent (Kool Shen) and the young organ donor consultant, Thomas (Tahar Rahim), who knows their loss might mean a new chance at life, a new chance at pulsing movement, for someone else.

Heal the Living takes up other stories, from doctors and nurses and organ transportation crews, to Claire (Anne Dorval), the eventual recipient of Simon’s heart, expanding its exploration of intersecting lives and unexpected turns. These other stories bring with them other sounds, a recurring piano theme, offscreen cries in a hospital hallway, traffic and birds, Vincent’s metal sander in his workshop. Signs of life going on, shaped by pain and surprise, hope and resilience, these sounds accompany careful visual compositions, the blues of Simon’s life echoed in hospital partitions, packaging, and surgeons’ gowns. When the movie breaks up time, flashing back to scenes that underscore Simon’s naïvete, his utter inability to anticipate the black screen that lies ahead for him. Even as the movie sentimentalizes his innocence, it quietly observes the experience of the medical workers, some barely sketched here. As they track donor organs, wash pale dead limbs, or speak gently with desolate relatives, these figures find their own rhythms.

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Cynthia Fuchs

Cynthia Fuchs is Film and TV reviews editor at PopMatters.com and director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.