Breath of Life (L’Ordre des médecins)
This strange film is death sped up. The agony of terminal diagnosis usually lasts a lifetime; L’Ordre des Médecins is over before you can catch a breath. This is not a bad thing – prolonged illnesses bore as much as they enthral. But what’s lost here is crucial: some sense of the characters’ inner lives, some intrigue aside from the purported realism, some idea that we will be captured beyond the monotony of deterioration.
Jérémie Renier is suitably charismatic and brooding as Simon, the superstar doctor of a pulmonology ward, a man whose professionalism is undisputed and whose abilities remain unquestioned. Early scenes show how clinical he is, how unsentimental. The rupture: his mother (Marthe Keller) is brought in. Previously poorly, she’s suffering the second time around. There are few chances in this act.
Synths thud so as to focus Simon’s angst. He’s found bracing the corridors, thrusting on trainers, drowning out air and sound through his headphones. He smokes a cigarette; he smokes a joint. Laid bare are the frustrations of knowing, of being helpful and helpless. Fury is evident, if poorly articulated.
First-time director David Roux shows the cold cruelties of a partly desensitised medical career – an existence in which one is as numb as they are compassionate. But the moments of candour feel softened by an enveloping haze. No one is truly odious, not even the doctor with a subscription to a monthly golf magazine.
Medical ethics lapse: Simon, with help from a trusted colleague, performs exhausting tests on his ailing mother. Professional ethics are left to burn: he beds the hospital intern (Zita Hanrot) who curiously takes centre stage during treatment. Underwrought subplots fester and dissipate: his father is a babbling fool; his sister initiates a much-needed divorce. Not strong enough in themselves, these asides drift peculiarly past the central trauma.
And this is an anodyne, quick depiction of trauma. The mother accepts her fate; the son doesn’t. Simon is never malicious, and we half hope he will be. Redeemed, his stoicism disintegrates while something takes its place: self-awareness, the desire for a nuclear family, a duty of care. There’s always one more chance. With treatment, fatalities are delayed. It’s what you do with the time in between.
Breath of Life (L’Ordre des médecins) does not have a UK release date yet.