Having had his face ripped apart during the early days of World War One, French officer Adrien (Eric Caravaca) is transported to a Parisian military hospital. Initially unable to speak, he endures the first of countless operations performed by a plastic surgeon (André Dussollier) to rebuild his shattered features. Five years pass in the Officers’ Ward – a room without mirrors – until, buoyed by the encouragement of a compassionate nurse (Sabine Azéma) and the support of other badly scarred colleagues, Adrien finds the strength to contemplate a life outside the hospital.
In less skilful hands this humanistic tale of suffering and rebirth could have been cloyingly sentimental, yet writer-director François Dupeyron (1991’s A Beating Heart, 1994’s The Machine) has created an admirably sensitive and quietly moving drama. Japanese cinematographer Tetsuo Nagata photographs the disfigured characters with tactful finesse, favouring low angles and a muted colour palette, while Arvo Pärt’s score heightens the poignancy of the impressive ensemble performances. Captivating.