Film review: 'The Country Doctor'

New Zealand has a crisis in the rural health area. So does France.

The Country Doctor (Médecin de campagne) 
Director: Thomas Lilti
In cinemas from January 26

New Zealand has a crises in the rural health area with too few doctors wanting to take up GP positions in the back blocks, but this is not just a New Zealand problem. France also is facing this issue which is examined in this film.

For the past 30 years, Dr Jean-Pierre Werner (François Cluzet) has been working as a general practitioner in the countryside, far away from any other medical facility. He discovers he is suffering from a tumour which may be life threatening and goes on a course of chemotherapy.

The doctor who is supervising his treatment suggests he gets another doctor to support him in his practice and sends Nathalie Delezia (Marianne Denicourt).

Werner considers himself too indispensable and is reluctant to give the new doctor, who is a recent medical graduate and former nurse, too much responsibility and many of his patients will not accept a new doctor, particularly a woman.

Much of the film follows Delezia’s gradual acceptance by the community along with Werner acceptance of his condition as well as seeing the need to change and update his approach to his practice – letting go his control, engaging with the wider care community and getting his records computerised.

Cluzet and Denicourt give beautifully understated performances, slowly revealing their anxieties, aspirations and moral dilemmas as they encounter new problems and old patients. They are not just doctors but psychiatrists, counsellors, advisers and social planners.

It’s a fairly quiet, slow film, painting a portrait of contemporary French rural life. There are no real dramatic events or romantic moments but there are a few eccentric patients including an unusual young man with a fixation on the 1914-18 war who has built a fox hole in the backyard to play with his weapons.

This portrait of rural village life is also a commentary on the state of the French health system, Director Thomas Lilti has previously been a doctor and uses the film to voice his concerns about the lack of doctors in the area of rural health and the centralisation of health services generally.

As well as being focused on health the film also provides an almost nostalgic view of rural life with its social and cultural issues as well as the changes in French society.

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