- CANNES 2021: Emmanuelle Bercot delivers a risky, powerful and poignant melodrama about a man played by Benoît Magimel on a journey towards unavoidable death
"Get ready for your departure and prepare others for your absence". Pain, courage, guilt, solitude, sadness, freedom, dilemma, choice, cruelty, powerlessness: "no matter what happens, we will lose the fight against cancer because it will be more powerful than us." When, still in a confused state of nervousness and entertaining the hope of a miraculous cure, the young forty-something Benjamin learns that what he describes as his "shitty pancreas" is incurable, he balks at the inevitable scientific truth ("you’re a genius, yet you don’t have anything to suggest!").
It is his journey towards accepting his death, until his very last breath and through four seasons, accompanied by his loved ones and by health professionals, that French director Emmanuelle Bercot follows in Peaceful [+see also:
film profile], a poignant and confident melodrama that looks for sparks of light and life in the shadow of death that is gradually taking hold of a body. The feature film was presented out of competition at the 74th Cannes Film Festival and offers a great role to the always excellent Benoît Magimel, all the while paying homage (in a moving mirror image) to the resilience of the mythical star Catherine Deneuve, who restarted filming after several months of interruption following a stroke.
"Mum, I’m screwed". With his phase 4 cancer, the life expectancy of Benjamin (Magimel), a theatre professor preparing his young students for the entry exam of the National Conservatoire, is estimated to be between 6 and 12 months. A denial to overcome, ways to maintain a good quality of life and to slow down the deadly process to be found, the syndrome of the hero (the unbearable dead end for the ill person, torn between trying to keep fighting and fearing to disappoint his loved ones, when in reality, he needs to feel allowed to die), fear, the reduction of vital abilities, settling old scores in order to find peace. The film goes through all the steps of this final voyage with Benjamin, his mother Crystal (Deneuve), the doctor Eddé (American-Lebanese oncologist Gabriel Sara playing himself), his right hand Eugénie (Cécile de France), theatre student Lola (Lou Lampros), and the Australian son Léandre (Oscar Morgan).
Working ceaselessly on maintaining a balance between opening the emotional valves and the restraint necessary to a realistic description of this process, Emmanuelle Bercot (who wrote the script with Marcia Romano) takes risks (the gospels sung by the medical professionals in order to relieve the pressure at the end of his appointments) and overcharges the film a little, with the story of a child coming out of the past. But that is also life, with all its possibilities and its regrets taking shape just as the final face-to-face with oneself approaches. And Peaceful is a melodrama which, thankfully, isn’t scared of its own shadow.
(Translated from French)
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