Irreplaceable / Médecin de Campagne (2016)
Ahhhh, more calming work from François Cluzet (here as Doctor Werner) and the goodly folk of rural France. Entirely different to the School of Life (made a year later), this also channels the All Creatures Great and Small Sunday afternoon vibe, although Doctor Finlay’s Casebook might be a better comparison. Only in France, in colour and with a touch of the modern-day Cronins delivered with charm by ex-doctor, co-writer and director, Thomas Lilti. Bask in the Irreplaceable Médecin de campagne…
This is a lovely film: low key, episodic like those two classics of British TV, and entirely restful. Almost nothing happens. The film glides along as humans do and old Jack was quite put out when it stopped. I was quietly lost in the company of these country folk, bouncing around each other with no great traumas intruding.
Cluzet plays the country doctor in question. Channelling the rumpled middle-aged thing, the English-language title imposes more on him than the original French one. He is diagnosed with brain cancer – okay, a touch of drama there, but he deals with it in such gloriously Gallic denial that it scarcely matters. He is a hard-working, not particularly exhausted man, mending his patients’ conditions be they acute (the town mayor wrecks an artery on a ghastly rainy night) or chronic (an old man takes most of the movie to die). Initially, Werner looks essential, but his cancer doctor recommends an assistant to support him and the film is the story of their warming to one another. If there’s a particular point beyond the beauties of life in France, the English-language title beats it home: everyone is replaceable, even the much-respected Doctor Werner. In that he is heading to the back end of middle-age and seems to be divorced, well, there’s another toll of doom for those over 50.
Pfff, as the French say. I don’t really think the film is making that point. It’s more of a comfort blanket, laying out the matter-of-fact troubles of life alongside the small joys and the petty humour. Nathalie, the assistant, is initially resisted by Werner and given a Young Herriot ride of attacking geese, fake medical conditions to research and simple exclusion. She is played with smirking watchfulness and warmth by Marianne Denicourt. She is tested and wins through: calling Werner on his games, helping him in an emergency and, in the end, being his friend. The strongest turning point in the film comes as he realises she has worked out that he has cancer. They deal with it.
The performances are realistic and gentle. Cluzet gives us denial and charm; Denicourt observes and befriends (she is home and dry when some locals admit they prefer her to Werner…and scores a big win when a group of gypsies pitch up en masse). A gaggle of supporting characters flesh out the village, from Patrick Descamps as Maroini the organisy mayor to the nursing group that lets an old man die at home. A lovely line dancing scene, topped off with a heavily accented rendition of Hallelujah, pulls them into communal focus.
So, there. A doctor in trouble and a doctor learning her trade become a team in a rural community. They learn to get on. You know things will end comfortably when he is scanned by a frightening machine and she studies the results as his friend and equal.
Nothing noisy, nothing frenetic, just a big dollop of lovely.
Amazon Prime it. Ideally on a Sunday.
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