Doctor turned Director Thomas Lilti can at least claim to know his material. Topically similar to his last directorial outing (Hippocrates: Diary of a French Doctor), The Country Doctor is a gently observational piece that takes a slice of rural French life and lets a discordant zephyr blow through its fields. As they say, Doctors never make the best patients, but in this instance they do make quite good Directors.
Dustin Hoffman lookalike Francois Cluzet, plays Jean-Pierre, a doctor practicing in rural Normandy. When Jean-Pierre falls ill he reluctantly enlists help in the form of a female student doctor called Nathalie (Marianne Denicourt). There is immediate conflict between them as Jean-Pierre, whose ironically misanthropic nature towards his peers puts him at odds with the inexperienced Nathalie. Cluzet has a wonderful way of conveying emotion through subtle expression, allowing for appropriate moods of light and shade. Thankfully, Cluzet's skills are not lost on Director Lilti, who elevates this further by letting the camera sit with his performance for long periods. Lilti's restraint only serves to enhance this character driven film - it is a restraint that is concerned more with development of character than driving the plot. The lack of a substantial plot might understandably concern some, but when it is offset by such a rich array of characters, all is forgiven.
The collision of vastly different backgrounds in Jean-Pierre as an experienced rural doctor, and Nathalie as an inexperienced city doctor, provides fertile ground for the film to explore its thematic concerns of vocation and location. Furthermore, their relationship allows the film to bristle with humour throughout, and with such a focus on its two protagonists, it is a relief that the chemistry between Cluzet and Denicourt is one that successfully elevates the film rather than drags it down.
The Country Doctor presents nothing groundbreaking; it is what I would coin a delightfully forgettable film - one that won't stick in the memory for long but is a delight to watch at the time. Nonetheless, it is all the better for its reserve and operates amicably within its bounds at a pace that matches its rural setting. Despite some cliches and melodramatic interludes, The Country Doctor is a warm and inviting film that avoids being side tracked by any weighty concerns.
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Rating: 3.5 stars.