Early one morning, seventeen-year-old Simon (Gabin Verdet) wakes in his girlfriend's bed and gazes at her sleeping face, but he has no time to hang around for he has something he wishes to attend to. She wakes and regards him as he pulls on his clothes and exits her room, not needing to say anything, and then he is out cycling down the street towards his friend's van, soon accompanied by another pal on a skateboard. Once inside and driving through the countryside, they don't need to say very much to one another either, they simply anticipate the enjoyment ahead: surfing, and as they hit the beach and pull on their wetsuits then grab their boards, the immediacy of living for that moment in the waves is all that matters...
Heal the Living commenced with some of the finest surfing footage ever to grace the screen, in a fictional context at any rate, but it was not a film about that particular sport, in fact it wasn't a film about sport at all. In a striking example of special effects, on the way back Simon and his mates are hurtling along the road, two of them asleep, when the driver, who may be pretty sleepy himself after all that early hours exertion, sees the landscape ahead turn into a seascape and suddenly there is an almighty crash. We then see Simon's mother (Emmanuelle Seigner) being woken to be informed that the worst has happened: her son has been gravely injured in a road accident, and she and her estranged husband (Tahar Rahim) need to get to the hospital.
From the oddly romantic manner director Katell Quillévéré is presenting this, you may be expecting the plot to take a magic realist turn and Simon is blessed with a miracle, surviving thanks to some angelic intervention. But that does not happen, the boy is not going to wake up because as the doctor (Bouli Lanners) tells the parents, their son is brain dead, so it's only the life support machines keeping him "alive" - it's a facsimile of life, where he breathes, his heart still beats, but he is not merely unconscious, he has completely left this world behind. If you get a little teary at scenes where characters grieve, then this would probably be best avoided unless you wanted to indulge yourself in a heavy duty crying at the movies session.
Some people do like that, and the tragedy depicted here was so mundane, banal even, that it raised the emotions of those affected in the story, never mind those viewers watching it unfold, to a heightened sense of despair. But that would be wrong to believe this is where it ended, for the director, adapting a novel by Maylis De Kerangal, had bigger fish to fry: certainly folks die every day, it's a fact of life, yet part of that life is that plenty do not, either because it is not their time or because they make a decision that can prolong their existence. This may be a chance thought or it may be imposed upon them from a higher authority, official or otherwise, but we are living in a world where terminal illnesses or conditions need not spell the final curtain, and the other main player in this tale is made aware of that.
For this was actually the story of Simon's heart, not his soul, and that organ pumping blood around his body can still carry on in another's. The woman chosen as a recipient is Claire (Anne Dorval, from the Xavier Dolan films), a middle-aged mother of two more or less grown boys who are terrified they may lose their beloved parent, and are urging her to have the operation, or at least one of them is, as Claire is trying to spare her sons any more upset than is necessary. It's no great shock that she accepts the transplant, this was not a movie with any major twists or turns, it made itself clear from the first few minutes this was an account of a heart transplant of a kind that occurs every day. What distinguished this was the compassionate yet oddly distant approach adopted, as if we were watching from Simon's heightened perspective as he looked down from the afterlife, rendering it more than a basic plea to the audience to allow their organs to be donated after death, though that public service remit was definitely there. Delicate piano music by Alexandre Desplat.