When a doctor is left with the thankless task of informing a patient, or a patient’s family of good news, bad news or tragic news, we only perceive that situation from our side. How we react in such a moment – but how does the messenger feel? It’s that notion which Thomas Lilti’s moving drama Hippocrates lives off, as a comprehensive study of the inner workings, the personnel and the politics that take place in a hospital. This is all about how the doctors are affected – and following on from several successful TV series to convey much of the same thing, ranging from ER to House M.D. to Scrubs – it’s a tried and tested formula on the television, but seldom seen on the silver screen.

Our entry point into this world is intern Benjamin (Vincent Lacoste) – a 23 year old, who has managed to obtain a role in the hospital thanks to his father’s authoritative position. Though this leads to a few of his colleagues questioning the validity of his employment, mostly from fellow intern Adebl (Reda Kateb). With patients coming and going, a few issues arise that form a faction within the establishment, leading towards a dramatic finale where the youngster’s mistakes come under intense scrutiny.

In the opening stages, Lilti moves effortlessly between comedy and pathos, highlighting the stark change in atmosphere that occurs in real life, where our protagonists could be sharing a joke in the office, or singing together during their lunch break – only to then be thrust into somebody else’s life or death situation, where the film takes a sombre turn, showing just how thin that line is. The commitment to naturalism is remarkable too, with an outstanding attention to detail and subtlety. What transpires are several scenes that are difficult to watch, as a film that is very upsetting in parts. But it’s of great commendation to the filmmaker to maintain such an understated approach, as given the prevalent theme of death and the intrinsic drama that derives from working in a hospital, to not once veer into the realm of the melodrama is mightily impressive.

There are so many layers to this piece, and different dynamics between the characters, with several themes at play, all balanced and substantially covered to perfection. The whole idea of cuts and the lack of funds is a factor, not to mention the narrative concerning Benjamin being the bosses’ son, or each individual patient’s own journey. But Lilti covers them all, with a deft touch and a distinct aptitude for profundity. Here’s a film that’s most definitely worth seeking out.