Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Thomas Lilti
Stars: Francois Cluzet, Marianne Denicourt, Christophe Odent, Yohann Goetzmann, Isabelle Sadoyan, Felix Moati.
Une Pratique De Pays?
After screenings at the French Film Festival this gentle, bittersweet drama gets a limited cinematic release on the art house circuit.
Jean-Pierre Werner (played by Francois Cluzet, from The Intouchables, etc) is a dedicated doctor in a regional area of France. He is the sort of old fashioned doctor who puts his patients ahead of monetary considerations, a bit like the Gallic equivalent of Marcus Welby. He cares for his patients and he knows their illnesses. He travels miles to treat the sick and seems to be on call 24/7. But after thirty years of running his solo practice he is diagnosed with a brain tumour and is urged to slow down. Reluctantly he agrees to take on an assistant to share the load.
He takes on the inexperienced Natalie (Marianne Denicourt). Natalie trained in a city hospital and takes some time to adjust to the pace of life and the rhythms of the country. The film follows their somewhat awkward partnership. He is somewhat stubborn and feels that he is irreplaceable (the film’s original translated title), and he initially makes it hard for her to fit in. She has a slightly different approach to treating patients. She is more straight forward in dealing with the patients and their problems, even advising one young woman to leave her abusive partner after she has had one abortion too many. The pair clash over the treatment of an ailing 92-year-old. Jean-Pierre thinks he would be better off at home surrounded by friends and family, while she thinks he would receive better care in a hospital. Jean-Pierre seems to have a distrust of institutionalised care though.
The Country Doctor (aka Medicin de Campagne) is the third feature film written and directed by Thomas Lilti, a former doctor turned filmmaker, whose previous film was Hippocrates, which also dealt with medical themes. He made a number of short films while he was studying medicine. He obviously knows this territory and his characters, and the film reeks with authentic detail. He doesn’t sugar coat the hard work, the long hours and the realities of the job.
The strength of the film lies in the dynamic between Cluzet, who looks like a Gallic Dustin Hoffman with his mannerisms and facial expressions, and Denicourt, who also appeared in Lilti’s previous film. Both leads deliver subtle and understated performances. Cluzet makes the dour doctor a complex, well-rounded and ultimately sympathetic figure. He manages to convey a range of emotions through his expressions. Denicourt brings a strength and compassion to her performance.
This is a low-key film, and Lilti handles the material with a gentle touch that enables the audience to steep themselves in the ambience of this rural area and get a sense of the quirky local characters. It has a meandering nature, and there is an episodic nature to the narrative, which results in some repetition of events and ideas. It is also a little predictable. There is some gorgeous cinematography from Nicolas Gaurin, who effectively uses the wide screen to give us a strong sense of location.