Every good movie has one great scene. In this it comes when the locum in a nondescript French village finds herself on a bootscootin’ dancefloor while a twangy country band plays Ghost Riders in the Sky.
What makes it special is that it arrives so unexpectedly and is shot with wall-to-wall locals, rather than a collection of choreographed extras. The warmth and sense of community – which is a central theme pursued by director Thomas Lilti (himself a doctor) – holds you like a big loving bear hug. Nathalie (Marianne Denicourt) has turned her back on hospital work in the city to assist the long-established and revered Doctor Werner (François Cluzet), who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.
Though ordered by his specialist to cut back on his rigorous schedule, Werner is reluctant to entrust his patients to an outsider, whom he sees as not up to meeting the demands of a rural practice. She, of course, will prove him wrong, but Lilti guides the couple’s journey with subtlety and an unforced affection for those whose wellbeing is in their hands. As a political statement, the movie comes down firmly on the side of old-school values. Werner, maintaining his records in handwritten files rather than on a computer, is friend as well as physician to his charges. Nathalie, detached at first and more pragmatic, will be changed not by him but by an inescapable awareness of people’s need to trust and be treated personally – she will, like Werner, staunchly oppose the establishment of a medical centre.
Romance is hinted at, but Lilti has the good sense to not blow it out beyond Werner’s hand on Nathalie’s shoulder – a highly charged, less-is-more moment. Enriching, endearing and of a monocultural, vanishing France (the last image is of a setting sun), this is the sort of film that you experience with all of the characters involved – which is why you are there in the first place, isn’t it?