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VISIONS DU RÉEL 2021 National Competition

Review: Healers

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- Marie-Eve Hildbrand’s first documentary feature film is a personal and moving picture which places humans and their fragilities centre stage

Review: Healers

Healers, the first full-length documentary by Swiss director Marie-Eve Hildbrand, triumphed in the 2018 Migros Culture Percentage’s prestigious Swiss documentary film competition (480,000 Swiss francs) when it was still in the project phase, a substantially encouraging outcome which helped the director to develop her project in the best possible conditions. The result, which won over the selection committee of the Visions du Réel Festival where it is currently battling it out in the National Competition (having also opened the 2021 edition of the event), is a personal and touching picture which places human beings and their fragilities centre stage.

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After calling upon her father in the name of her short film La petite photo des seins de ma mère faite par mon père, Marie-Eve Hildbrand has opted to repeat the experience, choosing him as the protagonist, or rather the common thread, of her first feature film Healers. The movie charts the final moments of his career as a GP in a rural setting, focusing on his surgery as a place where people can reveal their weaknesses - a vital need for our bodies as well as our minds, which is often side-lined in favour of an increasingly pervasive emphasis on performance. Marie-Eve Hildbrand certainly wasn’t wrong about her father’s powerful presence on screen. Both modest and incredibly precise in his speech, this doctor who is edging ever closer to retirement moves us with his empathy and with his mischievous eyes which contemplate patients without judgement. In direct contact with human beings and all their weaknesses, the doctor finds himself confronted, on a daily basis, with those aspects setting us apart as individuals: our emotions and the way in which we relate to others. It’s an interest shared by both father and daughter despite the different paths they have chosen, for whilst the film might have provided Marie-Eve Hildbrand with an opportunity to get to know her father in a different way, as a doctor and all that comes with it – never-ending work hours, responsibilities towards his patients, etc. – it also allowed her to widen her discourse to cover the matter of care more broadly. Indeed, Healers unfolds along several key lines: it’s the personal story of the director’s father, but it also follows the daily lives of a small group of medical students and the healers who work outside of (or in parallel to) traditional circles of western medicine.

Besides investigating different approaches, the film explores the concept of "care" itself, the invisible yet mighty link which is forged between caregivers and their patients, and which plays a central role in the healing process. Will the stress resulting from the ever-growing burden of responsibilities weighing down upon doctors allow them to continue forging such vital links, or have they reached breaking point? And if medicine is reduced to a set of automatic actions, could we still speak of it as care? Without trying to provide any answers, the film asks a series of questions about humanity in all its wonderful complexity.

Healers is produced by Jean-Stéphane Bron and Agnieszka Ramu on behalf of Bande à part Films - who are also handling international sales – alongside SRG SSR and RTS Radio Télévision Suisse.

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(Translated from French)

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