De Son Vivant (Peaceful), 2021
90 minutes
Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot
Starring Benoît Magimel, Catherine Deneuve, Gabriel Sara, Cécile de France
French with English subtitles
Alliance Française French Film Festival | Buy Tickets

While I had momentary goosebumps, five minutes in and Emmanuelle Bercot’s Peaceful felt overly dramatic and considering the mortality premise – surprisingly lacked substance. Benoît Magimel plays Benjamin, a drama teacher who is terminally ill. The storyline follows his demise through the seasons of his final year, with his overbearing mother (Catherine Deneuve) by his side and past relationships hovering in the wings. Gabriel Sara’s portrayal of Dr Eddé is the character I was more interested in, offering compassion, wisdom and a peace to both the plot and the viewers.

Scenes of Benjamin’s drama tutorage and Dr Eddé’s therapeutic debriefs with his team were peppered throughout, offering a clever incorporation of Benjamin’s emotional processing, mirroring his existential questioning and attempts at acceptance. It allowed the audience to similarly question mortality with, ‘what is presence?’ and ‘what is it to farewell for the last time?’. Important questions, offered to us almost as psychoeducation, and yet lacked integration into the overall flow.

Presumably with a plot such as this, character connection and emotionality would be key, and yet I felt neither were achieved. Introducing Benjamin’s past family did not render any more depth, instead the dynamic between characters felt stilted and not dissimilar to a soap opera. I was not invested in the characters and felt restless with the clichéd progression of events. The plot attempted to parallel the seasons, which transition effortlessly in nature, and yet this did not. Eric Neveux’s score similarly felt excessive, not allowing enough space for silence and contemplation, adding to the disjointed rhythm of the film.

There were times of joyous energy and humour, and Bercot and Marcia Romano deliver a screenplay that opens up space for curiosity about quality of life, and how to traverse through fear in our final moments. These conversations and moments will stay with me, as they invite us to consider how to feel alive in knowing we will die.

Abi Catchlove

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