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Hippocrates – Diary of a French Doctor (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

Hippocrates (Diary of a French Doctor)

Hippocrates (Diary of a French Doctor)


Starring Vincent Lacoste, Reda Kateb, Jacques Gamblin, Marianne Denicourt, Felix Moati, Carole Franck, Philippe Rebbot, Julie Brochen, Jeanne Cellard and Thierry Levaret.

Screenplay by Thomas Lilti, Baya Kasmi, Julien Lilti and Pierre Chosson.

Directed by Thomas Lilti.

Distributed by Distrib Films US.  101 minutes.  Rated R.

Hospitals have always been forbidding structures.  Huge, frenetic, sterile, crowded, smelling of ammonia and cleaning fluids, noisy, full of sick and injured people, huge and odd looking contraptions, dazed and under-rested interns.  You never want to visit one, whether you are the patient, a guest or even likely one of the employees.

French writer/director takes advantage of his experience in the health system to give this slightly jaundiced look at the inner workings of a run-down Paris hospital.

Satirical looks at hospitals are nothing new – the high water mark still has to be Paddy Chayefsky’s 1960 landmark The Hospital – but Hippocrates has some interesting things to say, particularly taking into consideration all the US controversy about government-run health care.  (For the record, while Hippocrates does not make the French health system look good, it still looks like a better system than the profit-driven US counterpart.)

While greatly an ensemble satirical comedy/drama, Hippocrates – named after the legendary ancient Greek  doctor whose name has become synonymous with health care and forms the root of the medical Hippocratic oath – mostly looks at two interns who are new to the hospital.

The first is Benjamin (Vincent Lacoste), a baby-faced kid straight out of school who doesn’t even really seem to have all that much interest in being a doctor.  In fact, it appears that the only reason he took the job is that his father (Jacques Gamblin) is the hospital administrator, a fact that he seems a bit reluctant to acknowledge, as he does not want to be seen as nepotistic.

The other intern is Abdel (Reda Kateb).  Abdel is experienced, a fully-qualified doctor in his native Algeria, but he now that he has moved to France for a better life, he has to prove himself all over again before he can practice medicine as a doctor.  Abdel is a smart, insightful doctor, has a wonderful bedside manner, but is snippish when told what to do by people who know no more than he does, sometimes less.  His tendency to continue with his own course of treatment, even when told not to do so by his so-called superiors, has him constantly in trouble with the hospital administration.

Hippocrates is about their life in the hospital, essentially.  (I’d guess there is less than 10 minutes of footage in the film outside of the place.)  They treat patients, deal with families, study, eat, occasionally rest, blow off steam, argue with their bosses, try to come to terms with the hospital’s rules and limited budget, and eventually inadvertently cause an all-out work-stoppage.

Occasionally Hippocrates feels a bit too much like a TV medical drama – in fact there is a running gag in the film that just about everyone in the hospital watches the TV series House MD and often second guess his treatments and diagnoses.  Yet, in the long run it is a smart and funny look at the life and necessary gallows humor of an extremely stressful job.  It may not exactly help arguments for a single-payer health system in the US, but it doesn’t really torpedo them either.  It just shows that state-sanctioned health systems, like everything else, are horribly imperfect, but have their hearts in the right place.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2015 All rights reserved. Posted: July 17, 2015.

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