They say doctors make the worst patients, and that’s partly true in The Country Doctor (aka Irreplaceable). This gentle, bucolic drama wins points for its naturalistic style but underwhelms emotionally.
Set in a small town in France, Jean-Pierre (stalwart everyman François Cluzet) is run off his feet each day tending to the medical needs of the townsfolk. He’s the only doctor for miles, which makes him pretty indispensable.
This lack of contingency planning becomes a problem when Jean-Pierre is diagnosed with lung cancer. Jean-Pierre’s own doctor arranges for chemo to start immediately and prescribes total rest, while also arranging for another doctor to take over the practise on a caretaker basis.
The new doctor is Natalie (Marianne Denicourt), and Jean-Pierre makes life very hard for her from the get go. He doesn’t actually want anyone to take over, least of all someone from out of town who doesn’t know the locals the way he does.
Natalie must withstand the obstructions created by Jean-Pierre, as well as learning that being a doctor in a country town means going beyond the call of duty and unofficially taking on such far-reaching tasks as relationship counsellor, handyman, and goose wrangler. Meanwhile, Jean-Pierre has a hard time handing over a role which has become his entire identity for years.
Writer/director Thomas Lilti himself was a doctor before getting into filmmaking, and his last film was Hippocrates: Diary of a French Doctor, which centred around a medical student.
He’s employed some of the same actors from the film here, including Denicourt, and Félix Moati, taking on the part of Jean-Pierre’s son Vincent, who has fled the country life to live in Paris.
Lilti certainly delves deep into medical intricacies. For much of the time The Country Doctor feels like a documentary, with a small crew dashing from one call-out to another. Yet despite the air of authenticity, it doesn’t really come alive as a drama. The characters are relatively engaging and the performances, especially Denicourt as the self-assured Natalie, are all good, but there isn’t enough of an arc to the story.
The score by LOW is light and breezy while Nicolas Gaurin’s cinematography favours sun kissed autumnal colours, going as far as to book end Natalie’s first and final external scenes with a sunrise and sunset respectively.
This is clearly a universe that Lilti is passionate about, and he has a wonderful humanistic approach. The film itself though, while always watchable, doesn’t do his passion justice. For that, I recommend you see Hippocrates, which is a much more successful film on many levels.
The Country Doctor is now in limited release
Richard Leathem @dickiegee