Peaceful (De Son Vivant)

Studio Canal
Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Emmanuelle Bercot
Screenwriter: Emmanuelle Bercot, Marcia Romano
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Benoît Magimel, Gabriel A. Sara, Cécile de France, Oscar Morgan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/12/22
Opens: October 28, 2022

If you don’t know that stage four pancreatic cancer sucks, this film will fill a gap in your education. There is, however, some relief if you go to a hospital with a hip middle-aged doctor who spends lots of time with you, one who leads a chorus of doctors and nurses in song, even sets up a room to have dancers do the tango for the entertainment of its patrons. Ah, French medicine, where all you have to do is show an i.d. card and voilá: you can almost look forward to being ill and keep your fat wallet intact.

Emmanuelle Bercot, who directs, has acting chops as well, having performed the lead with Vincent Cassel in “My King,” which hones in a woman who is in a rehab center, getting painkillers and thinking of her love affair with one Giorgio. So Bercot is in her métier with this tale of terminal illness, following the last months of Benjamin Boltanski (Benoît Magimel) as he relates to his mother Crystal Boltanski (Catherine Deneuve), thinks of the love child, Léandre (Oscar Morgan) whom he abandoned, and inspires the loving troupe of young actors who are being prepared by him for entrance to a conservatory.

The person you’re likely to remember long after you’ve seen the film is Dr. Eddé (Gabriel Sara), bald with a thick, gray mustache, who is as loved by his staff as Benjamin is with his class of performers. The doc’s impetus is to make his hospital more than a bed and a bunch of tubes. He insists on telling the whole truth to his patients, saying that lies would be more painful to them than hearing just how much time they have left. He makes certain, though, to ask patients (assuming they are as terminal as Benjamin) whether they would really want to hear how many months or years they have.

If Catherine Deneuve’s presence will be a major factor in bringing in an audience outside of France, you should know that her grieving over the expected loss of a terminally ill son is submerged in favor of a star representation by Dr. Gabriel Sara, who is an actual oncologist cum singer cum master of ceremonies. Lying in bed, having gotten over his initial denial, Benjamin has enough time to go over the highlights of his life—he is an excellent actors’ teacher though he insists that he has done nothing to change the world. He is as well regretting his biggest mistake, which was not caring for Léandre, who is encouraged by the oncologist to visit his dad and to forgive him. As Léandre fiddles with the door that would lead him to his father’s bed, he appears to have second thoughts while we, in our theater seats, are likely to rise up and say, Do it, man!

Lest Benjamin, currently without a partner, die without romance, enter Eugénie (Cécile de France), button-cute, looking with empathy at her favorite patient and allowing him to enjoy a hospital style roll in the hay. “De son vivant” (In His Lifetime) as the picture is called in the original French, may make you think of the kitsch American classic “Love Story,” given some platitudinous input from screenwriters Emmanuelle Bercot and Marcia Romano, but to my knowledge, Americans have not yet knocked out a movie featuring an actual, singing and emceeing oncologist in the most memorable role. Think of Dr. Sara as a one-man médecins sans frontiers.

In French with English subtitles.

122 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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