Annie (Jeanne Balibar), a 34-year-old general practitioner divorced from fellow doc Jean-Jacques (Patrick Catalifo), continues to make house calls on her scooter and keep office hours during the professional lull that is Paris in August. Her receptionist heads off on her sacred Gallic vacation, leaving Annie to fend for herself.
After an awkward dinner party with friends, Annie goes out for a nightcap with Richard Piotr (Jean Quentin Chatelain), an intense, beady-eyed actor currently starring in a ludicrously avant-garde production of “Richard III.” Self-involved but intriguing, Richard tells Annie of a former girlfriend who loved him so much she yanked out a clump of her own hair as a token of her affection. Richard declares a loathing for excessive passion.
Richard begins to visit Annie at her office, complaining of various vague symptoms and demanding to be inoculated against flu at the height of summer. Annie humors his requests and even indulges in a little playful necking during business hours.
Annie’s other regular patient is a reformed drug addict who’s HIV-positive, Laurent Blondel (Laurent Lucas). He figures his condition is fatal, so why bother treating it, a stance he argues lucidly. Annie insists he avail himself of outpatient treatment.
As pic progresses, Richard’s hypochondria mutates into something the doc would have done well to diagnose sooner and Laurent’s attitude leads into rocky territory.
Helmer’s skill is in weaving a web of plausibility around characters whose adventures border on outlandish. Bright, uncluttered summer lensing is an ideal counterpoint to the complex, semi-brooding narrative. Soundtrack uses songs as dramatic shorthand.
The central trio delivers memorable, full-bodied perfs. With increasingly creepy aplomb, Chatelain pulls off the sort of role that usually goes to Jean-Pierre Leaud. Lucas, a theater actor making a smashing screen debut, is touching and riveting. Coltish Balibar is just what the doctor ordered as a woman who feels more at home in chic warm-weather garb than she does in her own skin.
In the supporting cast, Bruno Lochet shines as the jovial ex-con Annie takes on as her interim receptionist.
At 133 minutes, pic feels a bit stretched out, but a simple, touching coda puts across the importance of being attuned to the struggles and sacrifices of others.