Review: La fille de Brest (2016)

La fille de Brest (2016)

Directed by: Emmanuelle Bercot | 128 minutes | biography, drama | Actors: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Benoît Magimel, Charlote Laemmel, Isabelle de Hertogh, Lara Neumann, Patrick Ligardes, Olivier Pasquier, Philippe Uchan, Gustave Kervern, Pablo Pauly, Myriam Azencot, Eddie Chignara, Raphaël Ferret, Christophe Meynet

Some industries are untouchable. A rebellion against it amounts to a battle of David against Goliath. We are talking about the arms industry, the manufacturers of fast food or the powerful world of pharmaceuticals. The latter is indicted in the French drama ‘La fille de Brest’. In it, doctor Irène Frachon – affiliated with a hospital in Brest, Breton – discovers that a weight loss medication for diabetes patients has very terrible side effects.

What follows is a legal battle against Servier, the drug’s manufacturer. While Irène surrounds herself with a medical dream team, including a diligent intern and powerful outside help, the manufacturer goes in with a straight leg. The arbitrator in this fight is the French equivalent of the MEB, a government agency that assesses the quality and (adverse) effect of medicines.

‘La Fille de Brest’ is above all a story of contradictions. A group of stubborn individuals against a large pharmaceutical company. A woman taking on a male-run industry. Provincial Brittany against metropolitan Paris. And it’s the underdog we sympathize and empathize with.

It’s one of the few things the movie does well. Since the fight mainly consists of discussions, meetings and sessions, the makers had to come up with something else to keep the viewer engaged. Not in this case the usual thriller element, in the vein of Grisham or Le Carré. The makers of ‘La fille de Brest’ opted for a combination of humor, lightness of tone (in the first hour) and a modest focus on Frachon’s private life.

In all three cases, they miss the point. The humor is hopeless, the light tone clashes with the heavy subject and the private life of the curious Frachon is anything but interesting. So that the film mainly relies on the (true) story, and then a pharmaceutical drama of more than two hours is really too long. The progress is much too slow, while we already know in the back of our minds how this will end. A boring viewing experience, which only the off-licence has a good medicine against. With serious side effects, yes.

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