Heal the Living

One of the more unusual but fascinating films I saw at tiff16 this year, Heal the Living is an almost spiritual experience that transports us from one vigorous life force cut short in its prime to another expiring life awakening with new vitality and hope via the modern biomedical marvel of a heart transplant. 

The human heart is the vital life-giving force of the film as we follow a young thrill seeking boy racing through the early morning streets of Le Havre on his bike after climbing out of his girlfriend’s bedroom window to meet up with his surfing buddies. As they enter the dark cold water and the waves begin to swell, the surfers are quick to pick up the challenge and ride the surging coils.

As dawn breaks the exhausted surfers ride home in their van and we pick up another story of a middle-aged woman in Paris who used to be a concert pianist until she was diagnosed with degenerative heart disease and now must be put on a long waiting list to find a new heart.

Based on the Booker longlisted international novel Mend the Living by French author Maylis de Kerangal, the film inhabits the time frozen space between life and death; a mixture of the heartfelt emotional journey that two families go through as they deal with heart breaking loss, and the procedural intricacies of organ donation.

Poetically shot, evoking the wonder of life with breathtaking cinematography, Heal the Living is also a visual marvel that takes us inside the minds of its characters to give us a sense of their very distinct lives and emotional turmoil.

We are shown the implications and urgency of organ donations from the first time the subject is broached to a dying patient’s parents, to the precise timing of two surgeries that must be performed at a moment’s notice miles apart from each other. First, to carefully harvest the organ from one patient, transporting it to another city as quickly as possible while the other patient’s surgery is timed and prepared to accept and insert the freshly taken heart when it arrives.

Skillfully balancing raw feelings and moral ethics, director Katell Quillévéré portrays the characters and the clinical procedures as being much more emotional than one might think possible, not only for the families of the victims but also for the doctors, nurses and surgeons themselves. 

One comes away with both a new appreciation for the professionals who perform and organize the organ donation protocols, but also the victim’s families who must make the quick and difficult decision of giving up their loved one’s body to undergo this intrusive procedure and trust that everyone involved will respect their wishes and treat the dying and living with the utmost care.

Thought-provoking and tragically inspirational, Heal the Living will remind you of the life giving opportunity that rests with all of us if we can overcome our grief and fears.


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