Tuesday, 14 March 2017

French Film Festival (2) - Barrie Pattison reviews 150 MILLIGRAMS and KALINKA

Emmanuelle Bercot’s  La fille de Brest/150 Milligrams pivots on Sidse Babett Knudsen (Borgen) working so hard on the central character, the Breton lung specialist who discovers that thirty years in the market drug Mediator 150, being prescribed as a slimming treatment, is killing patients.

She recruits wimpy medical researcher Benoît Mangimel, who at one stage she calls “limp dick”, and his team, to do a local study - lots of pulling carts of medical files and close ups of computer screens. At the hearing the drug company lawyers, who already have one scandal on their books, crush him to the point where he throws up in the loo before rallying to use their own study to show the product’s lethal record.

Detail includes the need to publish before the hearing, with no one interested in known research, and a doctor completely unfamiliar to them attacking the company swaying the judicial board, with his ex-students later recalling their own contact with his fierce behaviour. Public servant Olivier Pasquier, masking his identity with cell ‘phone calls from a squash court, offers her official statistics she can’t get, which indicate the four figure death total of the product. She names him Santa Claus. Mangimel is outraged when she has one of his students do her thesis on the project, knowing the girl will never get Big Pharma funding after that and his own support dries up, sending him to Canada.

Nice scene of her about to give up (“j’arrete”) when her backgrounded husband Patrick Ligardes rallies her. Local publisher Gustave Kervern (yes, the co-director of St. Amour) brings out her book, running foul of the censor. Nice to see fat girl reporter being feisty back, saying she’s the only one to read the boring publication so she better not sass her.

Strongest element is the sub plot of gross victim patient Isabelle de Hertogh who Sidse sends off to testify at a hearing. The woman dies due to stress before speaking and there is a confronting scene of them autopsying her body, cutting open her rib cage, weighing her lungs etc.  The makers know this is their strongest element and try to double up, using it as a pre-title but the rest of the film can only be anti-climactic - even Knudsen after her triumph reading the first names of sufferers, some of whom have died, into the camera for the assembled press.

Lots of side references to Thalidomide, tobacco and the drug company’s earlier fiasco go with the feeling that we are seeing a re-run of Erin Brockovich. Jacques Villaret has a walk- on as a patient. Good subdued colour ‘scope production. Unfamiliar setting.

More indignation and another autopsy in Vincent Garnet’s Au Nom de ma Fille/Kalinka covering the thirty year vendetta by father Daniel Auteuil seeking the conviction of ex-wife Marie-Josée Croze’s second husband Sebastian Koch for the rape and murder of his teenage daughter Emma Besson.

Starting with Auteuil being thrown into jail we get him launching a prosecution against Koch, who Crozé still supports, managing to have him deregistered and condemned in absentia. Dan runs a press campaign, is arrested for pamphleting when he follows Koch as he tries to set up abroad, giving the international arrest warrant details to border guards at every frontier when he moves on, finally having Serbian thugs abduct the dastard and bring him back to dump him by the lake alerting the French police that he’s in their jurisdiction again.

The legal manoeuvering again is the substance of the plot and this one gets some action out of contrasting ratty “obsedé” Auteuil with the charming Koch. Nicely handled production.

Catherine Deneuve, the Dardennes,  two doses of Isabelle Huppert and Kyoshi Kurosawa still to come.

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