thu 18/04/2024

The Night Doctor review - down and out in Paris | reviews, news & interviews

The Night Doctor review - down and out in Paris

The Night Doctor review - down and out in Paris

Elie Wajeman's feature film is atmospheric but disappointing

Prescribing as a political act: Mikaël Kourtchine (Vincent Macaigne)© Elie Wajeman

Elie Wajeman’s moodily lit film noir is, among other things, a great advertisement for the French healthcare system. Doctors in Paris do home visits! Even at night, and even for minor troubles such as a painful leg or stomach upset. It costs slightly more than going to the surgery, but t’inquiète pas, you’ll be reimbursed. Just don't lose your insurance card.

Mikaël Kourtchine (Vincent Macaigne), leather-jacketed, bearded and slightly hang-dog, is one of these night doctors and although apparently a devoted father, has been doing more than his fair share of night shifts. Although the film provides an interesting glimpse into the workings of the Parisian medical underworld, it doesn’t sustain the promise of the first few moments, in which we see him in his car with a young man, giving him a prescription for the opioid Subutex (insurance card at the ready) and having a typically French existential chat about whether feelings matter.

His wife, Sacha (Sarah Le Picard), is getting tired of his absences. It’s been six nights in a row, she says, and they argue, speaking in heavily French-accented English so their two adorable little girls won’t understand. It’s clear that he’s a man of principle, caring for those no one cares about. Junkies, in fact (how much more romantic the word toxicomane sounds). He’s answering an important need, he maintains, supplying risk-free user kits to addicts, but the authorities remind him that a large percentage of prescription drugs ends up on the black market. They’re not impressed with what he calls a “political act” and threaten to investigate him further.

We learn, as the night goes on, amid blurred neon-lit streets and high-rise buildings, what a morally compromised and conflicted man Kourtchine is, and how easily he seems able to set aside his persona as a caring dad. His chaotic pharmacist cousin Dimitri (Pio Marmäi), who’s in debt to a drug dealer, has roped him into providing fake prescriptions for Subutex; Mikaël is trying to extricate himself but it’s proving difficult. Impressively, he manages to keep his bedside manner intact as, in some of the most effective scenes, he makes house visits to several elderly ladies, one of whom plays the piano for him soothingly.nightdocAt the same time he’s fending off calls from Sacha and the dispatcher, helping junkies, pursuing a biker who flings a bloody syringe into his car, taking a woman who’s overdosed to hospital, signing scripts with fake insurance cards for dealers, and putting up with Dimitri's increasingly unreasonable demands. Then there’s his mistress, Sofia, (Sara Giraudeau, pictured above), who is Dimitri’s girlfriend and also works in the pharmacy.

Mikaël’s life is undeniably hectic, dangerous and spiralling out of control but there’s an inconsequential feel, as if the plot doesn’t quite carry its own weight. Does Mikaël want to reconcile with his wife? Is he acting in bad faith with Sofia? Are they really going to run away together, just as she’s accepted Dimitri’s proposal of marriage at his birthday party? Do we care? Ominously, Dimitri tells him that Ossip, the Georgian drug lord, needs him to write prescriptions for Fentanyl, but Mikaël draws the line there.

Refusing may have terrible consequences, though, anticlimactically, it turns out those have more to do with his cousin than Ossip. The sad final scene, in which, speaking on the intercom outside his apartment building, he tries to win Sacha back, is formulaic. You can’t help feeling that an episode of Spiral would have done it better.

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