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French Director Thomas Lilti On Le Pacte-Repped ‘Irreplaceable’

PARIS — Rolling off “Hippocrates,” which world premiered at Cannes’ Critics’ Week to warm reviews, doctor-turned-filmmaker Thomas Lilti delves once again into the medical world with “Irreplaceable” (“Medicin de campagne”). Le Pacte will unveil the movie at the UniFrance Rendez-Vous in Paris. The social dramedy stars Francois Cluzet (“Intouchables”) as a devoted and revered countryside doctor whose life gets rocked by a middle-age woman who has come from the city hospital to earn her chops. Challenging each other with opposite views on medicine, the pair eventually bonds and learns from one another. Le Pacte has already scored a flurry of deals with Athena (Benelux), Caramel (Spain), Mantarraya (Mexico), Sky digi (Tawain), Filmcoopi (Switzerland).

Variety: It’s the second feature you’ve made that’s set in the medical world. What is it about doctors that triggers your inspiration so much?

Thomas Lilti: Since I am a doctor it’s a world I know particularly well so I’m able to give a sense of detail, depict situations and characters that are credible and authentic. It provides me with a rich canvas to tell stories.

In this movie you show a sort of cultural clash between a countryside doctor and one who comes from a big city. Have you been confronted with a similar situation when you were practicing?

Somehow yes. I replaced a doctor in Normandy for a short while and noticed how difficult of a job it was.

As in “Hippocrates,” this film also has a social dimension.

Yes, definitely. The social aspect is there through the character of Cluzet, a doctor who lives and breathes for his job and is highly revered in the village; he provides a social link between the locals just like a school or a public organization would. This kind of doctor doesn’t exist anymore. Today, many rural areas are what we call “medical deserts.”

Your film is also quite feminist in the way that it depicts such a strong-willed woman — played by Marianne Denicourt — who stands up against Cluzet, who seems quite misogynistic.

I’d say that Cluzet’s character is more misanthropic than misogynistic. It’s true in any case that I wanted the film to give a perspective on medicine from both genders, and it was important for me to have a female character who can be both strong and gentle. Denicourt has shot with the greatest filmmakers and I was lucky to cast her for a small but significant role in “Hippocrates.” This film, “Irreplaceable,” gave me the opportunity to give her a meatier role.

The Cluzet/Denicourt duo works well. Was it an obvious combination?

My wish was to unite a pair of actors whom we’ve never seen together on screen. Since Francois Cluzet has shot with some many famous actresses, I knew that I could allow myself to think out of the box for his co-star. What I liked with Marianne Denicourt is that she’s not a 25-year-old bimbo; she’s an accomplished, daring 40-something woman who’s gone though a breakup and gives herself a second chance to become a doctor after having spent 10 years being a nurse. That takes a lot of courage.

Based on the pitch, one could think “Irreplaceable” is a romantic comedy but it’s not.

Indeed, it’s not a romantic comedy at all. It’s about those two characters who share the same love for medicine, and their mutual affection, admiration and eventually love grow from that common passion.

Where do you draw your inspiration besides the world of medicine?

I am fond of contemporary Anglo-Saxon literature from England and the U.S., for instance John Irving’s novels. I’m also fan of classic French authors especially Honoré de Balzac who had a wonderful way of telling sprawling, romantic stories with enthralling characters, set against a backdrop grounded in a particular social context. In terms of movies, I’m inspired by social comedies by Nanni Moretti and Ken Loach, as well as dramas by the Dardennes brothers, Laurent Cantet and Abdellatif Kechiche, among others.

What kind of movies would you like to make going forward? What other worlds would you like to explore?

I’m curious about many different things. With “Irreplaceable,” I got a chance to talk about the relationship between men and women, about life in the countryside. My next film will likely be set in an entirely different world. No matter what backdrop or context I chose, my films will always be driven by characters that trigger empathy and a wide range of emotions.

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