January 08, 2016
I think Le Toubib (1979) is a beautiful anti-war movie. It takes place during a future war where new and brutal ways of killing and maiming are taking place on the battlefield. Heat-seeking bombs are filled with thousands of shards of rectangular glass. In a scene that you'll be hard-pressed to forget once you see it, an unexplained chemical weapon traps soldiers within the walls of a cave... their lifeless bodies preserved in the rock in a sort of modern, man-made Pompeii.
There is a good deal of unnatural, philosophical dialogue about the nature of war, which might have seemed too heavy-handed to some viewers, but I appreciated it immensely. I particularly liked the point (and this hadn't even occurred to me until it was brought up in the movie) that we send soldiers into battle with the sole purpose of killing other soldiers. But when a soldier is injured -- not killed -- we immediately stop the game. The soldier is taken out of battle and nursed back to health. Someone that would have easily been considered "collateral damage" is suddenly a precious life to be saved.
I only had a few issues with the movie. I felt like the death of François wasn't fully explained (was it something to do with the new weaponry and how Desprée had mentioned earlier that wounds were getting infected too quickly now? Or did I just miss something?) I think Harmony's character was a little underdeveloped. She didn't feel like a real person to me, for some reason (although maybe she wasn't supposed to?) There's also the classic case of the fragile girl in danger constantly turning to the tougher man for protection, but even though this is a trope that often bothers me I can't help but admit that if I was ever in a similar position I know I'd behave the same way. Finally, I felt like the ending was *almost* perfect. I would have preferred if it ended with the freeze-frame of Harmony and the sister reading the letter. Coming back and showing the audience what happened to Harmony wasn't really necessary, since it had been implied, and I felt like it actually lessened the impact. All of these faults were minor, though, and didn't really detract at all from my appreciation of the film.
Le Toubib is available on a restored Pathe DVD/Blu-Ray with English subtitles, but it's a Region 2 disc so you'll need a region-free player to watch it.