Dr. Jean-Pierre Werner (François Cluzet), the local doctor of a small French village, discovers that he has a life-threatening tumour. His odds for survival are 50/50, a fact he chooses not to share with those around him. He carries on with his professional duties as a mean of distraction and, with the unwanted assistance of a young female doctor (Marianne Denicourt) assigned to his understudy, he takes stock in the strength of others and the power of the community that surrounds him.
The Country Doctor (aka Irreplaceable in some territories) is a French film that is, in many ways, a story about nothing. On the other hand, it’s a story about everything. It is an observational drama that relies on its atmosphere and the strong presence of its performers. Where similarly themed films offer a three-act plot, this film takes a non-specific direction that follows the day-to-day practice of its character as he makes house-calls, attends emergencies and treats patients in his office.
The film begins with Werner’s diagnosis, which presents a moment of contemplation. It is a powerful introduction to his character that is captured without fuss. Very little is spoken as his reaction to the news filters through his mind. He understands the urgency of the matter, yet chooses to focus on a small coffee stain on his doctor’s jacket. He smiles, knowing that bringing the stain to attention may have saved embarrassment. It’s with this subtlety that we are given a glimpse into this man’s demeanour and are able to connect with him immediately.
Director and co-writer Thomas Lilti captures the small-town atmosphere brilliantly by capturing the landscapes with a wide-angle lens, while exploring the various interiors with an intimate and confined perspective. At any given point of the film the audience is immersed in a rural environment and is given the rare opportunity to observe the characters without the constrains of heavy plot developments and tropes, making for a relaxed viewing experience.
Cluzet delivers an exceptional performance that is both understated and endearing. As proven in previous films The Intouchables and Tell No One, he possesses an emotive on-screen presence whereby he applies the ‘less-is-more’ approach and is able to convey more meaning through his expressions than through his dialogue. As his character moves from one patient to another, he reveals a deep level of humanity that forces the viewer to take pause and reflect on their own behaviours. Cluzet is well supported by Denicourt, who starred in Lelti’s previous film Hippocrates: Diary of a French Doctor. She too gives an understated performance, which sees her character development blossom with each patient interaction, as the charm of the tightly-knit township takes hold of her.
The cinematography, accompanied by a beguiling score, enhances the atmosphere and helps to enrich the film’s attraction. When these qualities are placed alongside the film’s other components we are treated to a heartwarming story that celebrates the power of community and the triumph of will. At times sombre, yet often amusing, The Country Doctor is an enchanting character study that is sure to leave viewers with an infectious case of the ‘warm & fuzzies’. Highly recommended.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10