Medical dramas – they all seem to be the ‘in’ thing. It’s almost a craze that never quite went away, be it the saga of the maverick Doctor House, the tearful and emotional ups and downs of Grey’s Anatomy or the giggles afforded by Scrubs. It is probably the human need to come to terms with some of the most stressful situations that makes hospitals such a popular setting for drama. Think about it, usually when you go to the hospital you experience some life changing event – a sickness that can result in death or disability, visiting a loved one who may well be dying or a life saving operation. But we have to trivialise it somehow – be it by channelling the emotions into the romances, laughing at the situation or, like Dr House, making sure the mystery is solved and the illness is conquered in the end (it was, in my opinion, for this reason the series was so successful – not only were the emotional highs and lows successfully channelled into the convoluted personal histories of the characters, the way House was capable of conquering any disease was the topic of caricature). But when it hits the fan, so to speak, we are all struck by how different the reality is. This is possibly why Hippocrate chooses, more than once, to poke fun at House. This is a film with a clear political aim and an agenda along with a dramatic intent. I found the balance all in all well struck in Hippocrate…well, almost.
This is the story of Benjamin, who, true to form in these kinds of films, is the new intern doctor at a Paris hospital. Like many interns he is more enamoured with the idea that he is now a doctor and quite unprepared for the harsh realities of the hospital life. Not that Benjamin needs to fear much: his father is a senior doctor. This is, in fact, the story of Benjamin having a short, sharp culture shock, not only with the profession itself (and this in itself will prove a steep learning curve) but also with the social and economic conditions surrounding the profession. One notable character in the rota of interns is Abdel, a senior doctor in Algeria who has to start from scratch as an intern to get his qualifications ratified in France. His methods are not always considered orthodox and they definitely fly in the face of hospital policies, but his love of the job and the care he shows for his patients may just be the inspiration to keep Benjamin from giving up…
What I really loved about this film is the rawness of it. We see Banjamin making mistake after mistake, hiding behind his father and really struggling, from a psychological point of view, to understand what kind of doctor he wants to be. There is an air of a slight political rant towards the end of the film (you’ll know what I mean when you watch it) that undoubtedly signals that the undercurrent of the film is the privileged white youth coming to terms with real life. This however, is never openly pushed into the face of the viewer and it is melded well with the dramatic arc of the story. Of course, in such a duality, the character of Abdel, whose role is to provide an alternative role-model for Benjamin, gains great importance. While I did love the very presence of the older, senior doctor forced to do an interns job (a topic not sufficiently studied in film I reckon) for me, his character didn’t quite scan. True, the film tries to show him as headstrong and disobedient to authority – coping ill with being relegated to junior status – but this is quickly forgiven because the hospital management is ‘the instituion’ and Abdel is doing ‘the right thing’. In this context, Abdel comes across as a little too saccharine, a little too much the perfect doctor. It is a good parallel with the slightly romanticised way youth paints its mentors, but I honestly felt, in the universe of the film, it didn’t quite work.
That said, Hippocrate is a thought provoking film that hits a lot of right cords. Check it out if you’re after something that is definitely NOT a typical hospital drama.