This is another example of a film that I am fortunate to have seen thanks to a film program, in this case it’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, which is presented in part by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Emerging Pictures. Much like films I saw last year in From Britain with Love this series presents new films from foreign countries that likely have little to no US distribution. It’s a great way to discover some hidden gems. If you see a new films series from a specific country playing near you I urge you to go out and see some selections.
I wanted to see many of the titles that were playing at a local art house but sadly my schedule only permitted one.
This film concerns a doctor/patient relationship between David (Vincent Lindon) and Romain (Quentin Challal). David is a dermatologist who specializes in X.D., a photosensitive skin disorder, which Romain has. Essentially he can’t be exposed to UV radiation and must cover up if out in daylight and must check lighting conditions. It’s a chronic condition which causes many growths, which may or may not be cancerous and he undergoes many procedures. The basic relationship conflict that exists in this film and a chronic illness, are things I can identify very closely with, though on a far less severe level.
However, there’s not merely a doctor patient struggle in this film. Yes, there is a the personal connection that a physician has with a patient he’s treated his whole life but they also each have their own conflicts they grapple with. David struggles with trying to transition to a position with the WHO, dealing with his successor where he is and making sure his patients are in good hands and how to break it to his current patients. While Romain struggles not only with his conditions but with adolescence and trying to find some sort of harmony between the two.
The film’s weakest point is perhaps the one it should’ve handled most easily. The rivalry that develops between David and Carlotta (Emmanuelle Devos) is a bit too infantile and trite, especially when contrasted to some of the naturalistic truths found in other aspects of the film. The arc seemingly takes a huge jump in their relationship also. Thankfully the film has so much else going for it that this is a minor complaint.
One of which is an aspect I love and that is the juxtaposition of high point and low point in the narrative. David takes Romain on a road trip as a pretext to telling him he’s leaving. There’s some great scenes, interactions and montage. It’s wonderful and you get swept away in the fun. Upon their return Romain’s mother (Caroline Proust) lets the cat out of the bag immediately. Overwhelming high to incredible low in a split-second that propels the film beautifully into its second half.
The acting in the film for the most part is very strong but it really is a two-man show both Vincent Lindon and Quentin Challal are absolutely wonderful playing their disparate characters. Moreover, they work very well and naturally with one another which really sells you on the fact that the characters have a history. It feels organic an not like an artifice created for the purposes of story-telling.
The music whether instrumental or an original song for the film is very well-spotted, always emotionally truthful and highlights the emotional resonance of all the scenes in which it’s present. It’s rare to see both incorporated in one film and even more rare still to see them both work so well.
Through all its interpersonal drama and life-and-death situations the film does find a lot of room for comedy, quite naturally too. It’s this mix that allows it to work so well. It doesn’t stay to dour and works enough ebbs and flows such that it can extend the story the necessary amount so as to tell things in their proper time without forcing things.
My one previous aversion aside this is a very strong film and I’m glad it’s getting this showcase and I’m saddened that my screening was so woefully empty. It’s rare to see a doctor’s and a patient’s tale told so well much less a man’s and a child’s but here it is and there’s a great synergy to it. It’s a film that’s grown on me since I’ve seen it and I hope more people get a chance to see it.