When French country doctor Jean-Pierre Werner (François Cluzet) is stricken with an inoperable tumour, he reluctantly accepts the newly qualified Nathalie Delezia (Marianne Denicourt) as his assistant. But she soon discovers that life in a rural practice is very different to that in a city hospital.
Emulating Jonathan Miller and George Mad Max Miller by swapping doctoring for directing, Thomas Lilti follows his acutely acerbic intern study, Hippocrates, with an episodic saga that not only draws on his own experiences as a locum in Normandy, but also takes many cues from 1920s Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov's A Young Doctor's Notebook, which also provided the inspiration for Daniel Radcliffe's darkly comic TV series. But, while Marianne Denicourt lacks diagnostic experience, she has spent a decade nursing and is quite prepared to stand up to François Cluzet's messianic misanthrope when the need arises.
Aware of his status in the remote farming community he has served for 20 years (at the cost of his marriage), Cluzet is determined that his patients won't suffer because of his ailment. But during one chemo absence, Denicourt (who has no idea he is sick) decides to hospitalise the nonagenarian Cluzet had sworn to treat at home and it takes a midnight emergency in a downpour to restore his faith in her judgement.
Such melodramatic interludes can seem a little obvious when Lilti and co-writer Baya Kasmi approach an undetected case of autism, an incidence of domestic abuse and a debate over a new health centre with such Loachian realism. But, while Lilti lingers occasionally on healthcare politics, the emphasis falls mostly on vocation and location rather than Cluzet's changing condition and his growing appreciation of Denicourt's distinctive talents.
Resembling Dustin Hoffman more than ever, Cluzet does much of his acting with his eyes, as he wrestles with the prospect of his life's work being almost over. But Denicourt provides deft support as she realises that her boss is also her most problematic patient.
Persuasively played by fine leads and a well-cast ensemble, this thoughtful treatise captures provincial life and the medical mindset with authenticity and tact.