If there is one great frustration of the modern world, it is that all enterprises are businesses. Be it entertainment, politics, legal, educational or other, the bottom line is that no matter what the trade, money must be made.
This is especially true of the health care system, which is both extremely costly and immensely profitable. Some doctors pull in astronomical paychecks while others — to say the least of nurses — feel the cold squeeze of financial reality. The pill pushers live high on the hog, while those we rely on to read our charts work long, exhausting hours for barely enough to pay off the cost of medical school. It is a broken system, but most systems are broken. The difference here is the difference between life and death.
Hippocrates: Diary of a French Doctor makes narrative of this struggle in a Parisian teaching hospital. Benjamin (Vincent Lacoste) is the son of the hospital director and although he is still fresh from school, Benjamin’s internship points to a residency, then private practice with the envious country club membership.
Benjamin’s newest colleague, Abdel (Reda Kateb), is a doctor from Algeria who must work as an intern in France before he can be certified. Abdel is Benjamin opposite in every way. Where Benjamin is green, Abdel is experienced. Where Benjamin buys into the social structure of the hospital, Abdel chooses to remain outside it. Where Benjamin makes shady and impulsive decisions, Abdel remains confident and collected. And, most importantly, where Benjamin looks to work his way up in the hospital, Abdel’s interest never wavers from the patients.
Although not apart of the original or modern Hippocratic oath, “First do no harm” cuts to the very core of what a person entering the medical field hopes to achieve. Yes, there is money to be made and yes, there is power in curing the sick and fixing the broken, but at their core, all doctors, physicians, nurses and surgeons try to do no harm. They are here to help, but often bureaucracy gets in that way and corrupts.
That is what makes Hippocrates such a worthwhile study of the health system. While Hippocrates focuses primarily on Abdel and Benjamin, it could easily be called Dairy of a French Hospital as the fellow nurses, surgeons, patients and family members of the patients all play vital roles. As does funding, which dictates which machines work and which ones don’t. In some cases, and in one in particular, a broken machine dictates who lives and who dies. This death, although not immediately impactful, sends ripples throughout the system of the hospital and reverberates in profound ways, particularly in a climatic scene where the hospital staff are allowed to voice their displeasure with the hospital, the budget and the structure of how things are run.
Hippocrates is a strong narrative that, unfortunately, makes two crippling missteps. The first involves a character getting blitz drunk and creating havoc, the other is that same character getting his Hollywood ending, one where he even looks over his shoulder into the camera. It’s an atrocious ending to an otherwise excellent film that manages to dig deeper into a subject often ignored.