Doctor-turned-director Thomas Lilti seems to be leading a one-man cinematic campaign highlighting the threats facing the French health system. After Hippocrate, a no-nonsense look at life for a young intern at a Paris hospital, Lilti now turns his attention to the dwindling number of doctors drawn to the often difficult life of a rural practice. Médecin de Campagne could easily have been a run-of-the-mill look at the daily life of an overworked country doctor. But Lilti has produced so much more. He uses the personal drama of a doctor forced to hand over his patients to a much less experienced newcomer to explore the vital and varied role these doctors play in the community. It’s a deceptively complex film which sets off on a familiar path before gradually changing tempo to enter a deeper, richer, more emotionally satisfying territory. Lilti avoids sugar-coating the reality of the job – relentless hours, harsh working conditions. And mercifully keeps the time alloted to any romantic attachments to a minimum.
Everyone in this northern rural community can count on Doctor Werner who is on call, around-the-clock, seven days a week. When he discovers he is seriously ill and needs to undergo a lengthy, difficult period of treatment, he is sent a newly-qualified doctor, Nathalie, who has no experience of working outside a hospital let alone at the heart of a rural community. Werner initially makes life difficult for the newcomer convinced she doesn’t have what it takes to be a country doctor. But Nathalie’s approach eventually wins over even Dr Werner’s most loyal patients.
In a master stroke, Lilti casts the excellent François Cluzet as the dour, dedicated doctor. Cluzet found international fame with The Untouchables, but his most recent films have failed to repeat that success. He is a versatile actor equally at home with comedy (Un Moment d’Egarement opposite Vincent Cassel), romantic comedy (Une Rencontre with Sophie Marceau) or in a meatier role like this. His skill here is in managing to make Werner – a gruff, loner – into a sympathetic character. He is almost outmatched by Marianne Denicourt as the calm, companssionate Nathalie determined to put her own stamp on the role of country doctor. A thoughtful, engaging film that delivers more than it promises.