Mys­te­ri­ous mes­sages drive un­usual thriller

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Werner’s ded­i­ca­tion to the peo­ple and place where he lives and works seems likely to come to an end, how­ever. In the film’s open­ing scene a col­league, Nores (Christophe Odent), who is based in an­other town, tells him the bad news: he has a brain tu­mour, with only a 50-50 chance of sur­vival. It’s ur­gent he lighten his work­load to al­low the chemo­ther­apy a chance to work. Nores uni­lat­er­ally de­cides to send Werner an as­sis­tant, and be­fore long Nathalie Delezia (Mar­i­anne Deni­court) shows up, newly grad­u­ated com­par­a­tively late in life af­ter spend­ing her early years as a nurse.

At first Werner, who is very set in his ways, is sus­pi­cious of the new­comer who, he quickly con­firms, is from the city and has no knowl­edge of how things work in a ru­ral area. But there are no prizes for guess­ing that, de­spite a few dif­fer­ences, the two doc­tors even­tu­ally be­come friends, thanks to the mu­tual re­spect they have for each other.

Thomas Lilti, who di­rected and co-scripted the film, was him­self a doc­tor — a pro­fes­sion he shared with Ge­orge Miller, an en­tirely dif­fer­ent kind of film­maker — and The Coun­try Doc­tor, his third fea­ture, feels very au­then­tic.

The var­i­ous pa­tients in­clude an old man (Guy Faucher) who wants to spend his fi­nal days in his own home, an autis­tic youth (Yo­hann Goet­z­mann) ob­sessed with World War I, a young woman (Mar­gaux Fabre) in a vi­o­lent re­la­tion­ship, and the lo­cal mayor (Pa­trick Descamps) who suf­fers a se­ri­ous leg in­jury one night dur­ing a storm. All these char­ac­ters are in­ter­est­ing and well in­te­grated into a drama that, while its nar­ra­tive line is en­tirely pre­dictable, nev­er­the­less has a ring of truth­ful­ness. Cluzet and Deni­court give re­laxed and per­cep­tive per­for­mances. The sub­ject of school bul­ly­ing is an im­por­tant and rel­e­vant one, but you don’t nor­mally ex­pect to find it in an an­i­mated film. This, though, is the theme of A Silent Voice, the lat­est anime to come to us from Ja­pan. It’s odd, in a way, that a de­ci­sion was made to an­i­mate Yoshi­toki Oima’s book, be­cause the ma­te­rial would be equally, if not more, ef­fec­tive as a live ac­tion movie.

It starts at a pri­mary school where the ar­rival of a new girl, Shoko, ir­ri­tates the school bully, Shoya, be­cause she is pro­foundly deaf. He and mem­bers of his gang ha­rass her in a va­ri­ety of cruel ways, in­clud­ing steal­ing her hear­ing aids. A few years later, a re­formed and now lonely Shoya en­coun­ters Shoko again by chance and tries to make amends. This sim­ple story is com­pli­cated by an ex­cess of char­ac­ters and a hefty run­ning time of well over two hours, but di­rec­tor Naoko Ya­mada’s treat­ment is sen­si­tive and the an­i­ma­tion is beau­ti­ful.

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