The Moon Child: Film Review

Terminal illness is handled with care in this appealing French drama.

In this poignant disease drama, French auteur Delphine Gleize avoids the sentimental pandering of most terminal illness scenarios and instead focuses on a doctor's near pathological obsession with his patients.

PARIS -- In the poignant disease drama The Moon Child (La permission de minuit), French auteur Delphine Gleize offers up a mature work that’s a far cry from her provocative 2002 debut, Carnages. A few trims in its rather bloated denouement could make The Moon Childeven more appealing to overseas markets, where it could find takers among art-house distributors outside the usual Francophone channels.

Vincent Lindon (Welcome) stars as David, a surgeon specializing in Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a rare genetic disorder whose carriers can develop cancer if exposed to sunlight. Obliged to stay indoors until nighttime, most sufferers succumb to the disease before they reach their 20’s, while some survive through their 40’s.

Thankfully, Gleize’s script avoids the sentimental pandering of most terminal illness scenarios. Instead it focuses on David’s near pathological obsession with his patients. Although the narrative (like David himself) tends to lose its way in the closing reels, it remains a markedly honest portrait of characters coping with a lifestyle that cuts them off from the everyday world.

David’s top patient is Romain (Quentin Challal), a 13-year-old troublemaker who spends his days either sequestered at home or roaming the countryside of southwest France, shielded from the sun by protective headgear. Since Romain’s father abandoned him at birth, David has become a willing substitute. But he has neglected his all-too-understanding spouse (Nathalie Boutefeu) in the process.

Once the details of the “moon child” disease are established, the narrative cuts back and forth between Romain’s adolescent awakening, which involves a touching affair with his best friend’s girlfriend (Solene Rigot), and David’s inability to cope with his upcoming transfer to Brussels. Although Romain is a teenager who’s socially handicapped by his disease, he’s in many ways a more adjusted person than David, who refuses to help his replacement (Emmanuelle Devos) get up to speed at the hospital. While Romain attempts to embrace life, David tends to reject it in favor of his patients, whether they need him or not.

The film kicks off with an impressive domino tumbling sequence set to the music of John Ford’s The Searchers, but afterward it adapts a more relaxed aesthetic approach, with cinematographer Crystel Fournier (Tomboy) hanging back to capture the action in medium and wide angles. If writer–director Gleize manages to restrain herself from indulging in Carnage’sshock techniques, she resorts to using too much music throughout the film’s shakier second half, hoping perhaps to build emotion when the story somewhat peters out.

Performances are terrific on all fronts. Vets Lindon and Devos (Kings and Queen) craftily portray the two physicians’ love-hate relationship, which goes through fits and starts as Romain’s health deteriorates. Newcomer Challal gives Romain a rebellious side that convincingly takes a turn for the worse later on.

Opens: In France, March 2
Les Productions Balthazar, Frakas Productions, France 3 Cinema, Studio 37, Lorette Production, RTBF, Belgacom
Cast: Vincent Lindon, Emmanuelle Devos, Quentin Challal, Nathalie Boutefeu, Caroline Proust
Director-screenwriter: Delphine Gleize
Producer: Jerome Dopffer
Director of photography: Crystel Fournier
Production designer: Antoine Platteau
Music: Eric Neveux, BLESS
Costume designer: Pierre Yves Gayraud
Editor: Francois Quiquere
Sales Agent: Wild Bunch/Studio 37
No rating, 111 minutes

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