Hippocrate (Hippocrates, 2014)

This is described on Wikipedia (and indeed on the French film poster pictured here) as in part a comedy, but I can only assume the person who wrote that has a different definition of comedy to me (not that the film is entirely without levity). It feels like an attempt to come to terms with the impact that austerity economics has had on key services like health, via the story of a young doctor (Benjamin, played by the perpetually stroppy-looking Vincent Lacoste) coming to intern at a busy inner-city hospital where his father works, and finding himself in a team pushed to the edge by budgetary cutbacks and pointless bureaucracy. One of the targets of that — and in many ways the heart of the film — is Algerian emigre doctor Abdel Rezzak (played by Reda Kateb), who is older and far more capable than the kids around him, but yet is forced to work on their level due to immigration requirements, not to mention a vague sense of underlying racism. This all comes out incrementally, as the film is more interested in imparting a sense of the day-to-day work that an intern doctor faces — presumably based on the director’s own experience of practising medicine (before he turned to film) — and uses a couple of different cases to draw out the underlying drama. It never fully coheres, and the character arcs of these two doctoral interns (especially the all-too-neat denouement) doesn’t quite feel convincing, but on the whole this is a good, well-made hospital drama, which along the way incidentally pokes fun at other such enterprises (most prominently House, M.D.).

Hippocrates film poster CREDITS
Director Thomas Lilti; Writers Pierre Chosson, Baya Kasmi, Julien Lilti and Thomas Lilti; Cinematographer Nicolas Gaurin; Starring Vincent Lacoste, Reda Kateb رضا كاتب; Length 102 minutes.
Seen at Ciné Lumière, London, Monday 6 July 2015.

Criterion Sunday 21: Dead Ringers (1988)

David Cronenberg’s films can be difficult to classify, and this certainly applies to Dead Ringers, involving as it does elements of horror and psychological thriller, as well as being a character study of a pair of twin gynaecologists, the Mantle brothers. In this role, Jeremy Irons is superb, managing to convey a distinct personality for each, meaning it’s (almost) never unclear which one is which, despite their largely similar look. The set design maintains a sort of creepy anonymity, as the film takes place in a series of almost indistinguishable blue and beige rooms, with the only really bold colour being the crimson red capes that the brothers wear in the operating theatre, recalling the garb of a 15th century cardinal (or perhaps even a plague doctor). The film manages a masterfully controlled slow build of tension and creepiness, as a famous actor (played by Geneviève Bujold) is pulled into their increasingly fraught orbit. There’s some dense ideas about individuality in there, but they never get in the way of the story. A film worth revisiting.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director David Cronenberg; Writers Cronenberg and Norman Snider (based on the novel Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Greasland); Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky; Starring Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold; Length 115 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 25 January 2015.

Side Effects (2013)

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Steven Soderbergh | Writer Scott Z. Burns | Cinematographer Steven Soderbergh (as “Peter Andrews”) | Starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones | Length 106 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Wednesday 13 March 2013 || My Rating 3 stars good

© Open Road Films

I find this latest (and apparently last) film of Steven Soderbergh to be troubling, but it’s difficult to locate quite how without invoking that ever-present spectre of “spoilers” (I may do it later; I shall warn appropriately). It’s set up as a medical thriller, dealing with the effect that prescription drugs can have on people. The opening shot shows blood on the floor of a swanky apartment, before the film backtracks by three months to introduce our heroine Emily (Rooney Mara) and, after a bit of backstory and a series of personal setbacks, her psychiatrist (Jude Law). This is all firmly set in upper-middle class territory, with cocktail parties on ships, expense accounts, nice clothes, comfortable living situations, the whole deal. Our heroine’s partner (Channing Tatum) is a disgraced former investment broker, recently released from prison. Our heroine has some kind of job in a design firm, while the psychiatrist is having to take extra jobs (including $50k from a pharmaceutical company to help with their drug trials) to make ends meet, what with the Manhattan apartment and a kid and a wife out of work.

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