Thursday, August 13, 2015

"Hippocrates: Diary of a French Doctor"


Hippocrates: Diary of a French Doctor” (2014, “Hippocrate”, directed by Thomas Lilti) may seem like a conservative’s indictment of European, state-funded health care.  The drama presents doctors in a crowded Paris hospital, in a poorer section of town, unable to do their jobs completely because of budget limits, and then watching each other’s backs to cover up the inevitable mistakes.  The young intern, Benjamin Barois (Vincent Lacoste) is initiated into this practice, and, whatever his gentle assertiveness, undermined by it.

Benjamin’s dad (Jacques Gamblin) practices there and can somewhat protect his son.  And Ben is assigned to work for a “third year intern”, Abdel (Reda Kateb), from Algeria (although white), and somewhat sympathetic to hardships because of his own back home.

Ben says he is 23, which sounds too young.  In the United States, someone wouldn’t finish medical school normally until age 26, although he or she would start hospital work in the third year, as a medical student.

Ben also looks too young, baby-faced and smooth (as if that could make infection control easier).  Physically, he bears an unfortunate coincidental resemblance to "Jahar".

The movie opens with Ben pacing through hospital catacombs, barely missing getting struck by laundry mopeds.  He walks into supply and gets fitted for a simple white smock and goes to work.

He lives in a little hospital bedroom defaced with sexual graffiti, constantly on call.  The whole staff has a very cohesive social life that sometimes includes rowdy parties, lots of esprit de corps, almost like the military.

The first incident comes when he treats a homeless man with apparent liver cancer and pancreatitis. He is told the ECG machine is broken so he skips it.  He prescribes pain killers but the next day the man dies of a heart attack.  He is told by the female supervisor to tell everyone he did the ECG.  His own father reinforces the idea, but he is troubled about lying to Abdel.  Later, there is a second incident, where an elderly living has left a DNR order which an intensive care team overlooks.  Abdel and Ben intervene with the family, which says to turn off the machine.  The woman dies.  But later both are disciplined because they interfered with the intensive care team.  It seems hard to believe. 

Things go downhill, with a crisis, and finally a good old labor protest by the hospital staff which says it can do its job. Finally, there is an unlikely by welcome redemption, for Ben especially.
 
One important point, only hinted in the film, is the grueling hours that interns and some residents put in to "pay their dues" because everyone before had to do it, leading to increased risks of medical mistakes that could affect patients.  


The official site is here  (Distrib films).

The film, while in widescreen (2.35:1) rarely goes outside and has a claustrophobic feel, with many scenes in tunnels and corridors and small rooms. 

I saw the film at Landmark E Street before a small weeknight audience. Another woman seeing it said. “That was a cute little movie.”

Wikipedia attribution link for Paris catacombs picture by Albany Tim, under Creative Commons Generic 2.0 license. 

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