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Film review: Dr Knock

Film

There is something exceptionally irritating about watching a film whose protagonist is superficially likeable yet morally bankrupt – and French director Lorraine Lévy’s newest comedy, Dr Knock, is a textbook example.

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It’s the 1950s, and troubled ex-thug Knock arrives in the small village of Saint-Maurice as a newly qualified doctor ready to make a fortune. His plan? Turn the sheepish villagers into a bunch of hypochondriacs ready to throw away their pennies just to spend time with “the great man”.

It’s a story of medical fraud, thievery and deception of comical proportions, with a pinch of romance and an attempt at morality thrown in for good measure.

But it fails to resonate.

Let’s start with the good points: lead actor Omar Sy has a glowing résumé in French cinema (think Intouchables and Chocolat), and his performance in Dr Knock is testament to his acting abilities. Tall, handsome and charming, Sy plays Knock with subtle emotion and conviction – switching with ease between warmth, anger and sadness.

The film has family-friendly comical charm, mostly driven by physical humour and some good-natured mockery of less intelligent minor characters. It’s somewhat predictable and at times a bit cringeworthy, but nonetheless deserving of a laugh or two.

The film’s setting is also a plus. Filmed amid the rolling hills of the Rhône-Alpes, Dr Knock is a picture-book of quaint French towns, springtime countryside and old-world living. A perfect escape for those longing to step back in time and catch a glimpse of the romantic French paysage.

If only the storyline could match the fairytale imagery.

Despite his charm and wit, Knock is a terrible character. This isn’t exactly Lévy’s fault, given the film is an adaptation of Jules Romains’ 1923 play Knock ou le Triomphe de la médecine, but Knock’s character faults could perhaps have been softened to make him a slightly more likeable protagonist.

The problem lies in the fact Knock never seems to be able to “knock off” his criminal past.

He is completely at ease scamming his poor villagers, charging them for treatments they simply do not need, all the while strutting through town in tailored suits with his head held high. Yet the audience is supposed to sympathise with Knock when an old acquaintance shows up to demand his money and threaten his blossoming relationship with a villager. I did not buy it at all.

Most disappointing is the implausible ending to what could have been a heart-warming film.

Dr Knock is showing in Adelaide at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas.

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