Hippocrates: Diary of a French Doctor
by E. Ladd
Fully adhering to the old adage “write what you know,” French writer-director (and trained physician) Thomas Lilti (Les Yeux bandés) brings us a story strongly influenced by his own experience as a young medical intern with his second film Hippocrates: Diary of a French Doctor.
The film opens with young Benjamin Barois (a boyish, curly mop-headed Vincent LaCoste) arriving at a Parisian hospital for the first day of his six month internship in a ward for the terminally ill. Unsteady and uncertain at first, Benjamin gradually eases into his role as intern on call. The fact that his father (Jacques Gamblin) runs the department certainly seems to be an advantage during his adjustment period. After an intense first week and while attempting to perform a tricky (and vividly filmed) spinal tap procedure we are introduced to Abdel, a fellow intern, who interrupts and pulls off the insertion with immediate skill. Abdel (Reda Kateb) is an experienced doctor from Algeria, who, in order to be recognized as a medical professional in France, has to backtrack his career, start all over, and go through the rigorous internship process. He has made the decision to do so because he wants to bring his wife and child to France and to, presumably, create a better life for them. When a particularly violent and difficult patient, a homeless drunk suffering from terminal cirrhosis and nicknamed “Tsunami” (Thierry Levaret), is admitted one evening, Benjamin is suddenly faced with the reality of both his role as inexperienced doctor and the financial shortcomings/politics of the system in which he works.
I like this film. Perhaps it’s silly and not so savvy for me to just plainly state that, but it’s the truth. Lilti has given us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it’s like to become a doctor, in a most gritty and realistically filmed way. (Lots of hand held camera footage here). The long hours, insufferable quarters and working conditions, the camaraderies formed and the coping mechanisms one must acquire in order to get through it all: it’s well captured. And this is not just a tale based on his experience (although, interestingly, it was partially filmed in the hospital where Lilti did his own internship) but a commentary on the nature of the medical industry and what it means to actually be a doctor, especially when dealing with personal morality and budget constraints imposed by the powers that be, with profit and protocol being of the upmost importance. As Abdel states: “Medicine is not a career. It’s a curse.”
And, as a final note, Reda Kateb is quite excellent. You might have seen him in Zero Dark Thirty and he won Best Supporting Actor for this film at the recent César Awards. I hope we see a lot more of him in upcoming films.
Watch the trailer for Hippocrates: Diary of a French Doctor
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