The plot of this soulful French drama sounds like an episode of a dodgy hospital soap. Director Katell Quillévéré (‘Love Like Poison’) follows a human heart through an organ transplant – beginning with the donor, Simon (Gabin Verdet), a dreamy bleached-hair teenage surfer killed in an accident. When the hospital calls his house at the crack of dawn, Simon’s mum (Emmanuelle Seigner) groggily answers the phone, oblivious that her life is about to shatter into a thousand pieces.
‘Heal the Living’ is one of those films you watch gripped to what’s happening in the spaces between words. At the hospital, the doctor who tells Simon’s parents that their son is brain dead is all kindness and humanity. But when he walks out of the room, leaving them raw with grief, he checks his watch, gets a beeper message – he’s off to the next emergency. That must be what it’s like to deal with life and death every day.
The medical side of things is shown in documentary detail, and it’s fascinating. With the clock ticking, a guy in a transplant control centre puffing on an e-cigarette calmly matches Simon’s organs. The cardiac surgeons in Paris who take Simon’s heart to transplant it into a musician (Anne Dorval) are arrogant alpha docs. These guys are heroes of the operating theatre, frighteningly in control (well, you’d need nerves of steel to slice open up a woman’s chest and remove her beating heart).
The two operations are squint-your-eyes-shut realistic (so real I checked whether they contained footage of actual transplants; no, the heart is latex). Transplanting a human heart is a miracle, but what stays with you after this film finishes is the miracle of how we’re all connected to each other in a million different ways.