Given the delicacy of the subject matter, Those Who Remain (Ceux Qui Restent), a 2007 film from writer/director Anne Le Ny (Les Invités de Mon Père, The Chameleon) potentially could have been a three-hanky film, but instead of tears, this is a quality, thought-provoking film that soars above cheap clichés and easy solutions.
Teacher Bertrand (Vincent Lindon), appears to be coping with all the demands placed on him while his wife, terminally ill with breast cancer, is back in hospital. He manages to juggle his job, his domestic responsibilities, and frequent visits to the hospital with some ugly scenes with his uncooperative 16-year-old step-daughter, Valentine (Yeleem Jappain) who illogically and emotionally blames him for her mother’s illness. During one of his visits he meets a young, attractive woman, named Lorraine (Emmanuelle Devos) who’s visiting her boyfriend about to have surgery for colon cancer.
Since neither Bertrand’s wife or Lorraine’s boyfriend are released from hospital, Bertrand and Lorraine continue to run into each other. The occasional cup of coffee morphs into a relationship that’s fraught with difficulties.
Obviously the subject matter places the characters in the middle of an emotional minefield. Both Bertrand and Lorraine meet due to the serious, life-threatening illnesses of their spouses, and they are drawn together by a strong mutual attraction. But is that the only element that pulls them together? One of the issues explored by the film is that when we support and nurse a dying spouse/loved one, we are essentially in a very lonely place. Relatives and friends can drop by to offer help, but they are able to leave. Both Bertrand and Lorraine are on a journey to the end of the road. At one point, Lorraine, who states that she’s no Mother Theresa, questions whether or not she’ll be ‘good’ or strong enough to be the person that she’s expected to be–after all, everyone expects her to stick with her boyfriend and it would seem extremely callous to dump him while he’s recovering from surgery.
There’s also a supportive visit from Bertrand’s sister, Nathalie (played by writer/director Anne le Ny) who arrives with her husband and child in tow. It’s obvious that Nathalie has problems of her own, and the film does a wonderful job of showing how awkward it is to discuss one’s own problems in light of the impending death of another family member. It’s clear that the pall of illness and death is upon the household–no matter how much everyone tries to pretend otherwise. And it’s also clear that while Nathalie and her family are free (and relieved) to leave, Bertrand must remain until the end–whenever that may be.
If this sounds like a depressing film, it’s really not, and that’s largely due to the delicate, sensitive script which doesn’t wallow in the death aspects of the film or milk the obvious emtion of the drama, but instead includes little details such as the magazines bought by the visitors and the relationships carved with hospital personnel in the gift shop. And of course the film includes superb acting. Vincent Lindon excels at these wounded stag roles, and he’s sympathetic and admirable–always keeping his voice in a mellow reasonable tone–even as his world collapses around him. Emmanuelle Devos as Lorriane is a bit of a dark horse here, and there are many unanswered questions about her attraction to Bertrand. Is their mutual attraction just an attempt to escape from the realities of looming death, or would their attraction extend beyond the hospital? They are both in that same lonely place, and so they understand each other’s concerns, but whereas Bertrand has been coping with his wife’s illness and battle with cancer for over 5 years, Lorriane’s journey is just beginning.
An excellent film about loss, grief and survival, Those Who Remain is highly recommended for anyone in the mood for serious French drama.