Past Event

Peaceful (De son Vivant) by Emmanuelle Bercot

January 26, 2023
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
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Horace Mann Hall, Cowin Auditorium, Teacher’s College, Broadway and 120th Street
Peaceful (De son Vivant) Emmanuelle Bercot, 2021, 122 min

Film screening followed by a Q&A with Dr. Gabriel Sara, the Mount Sinai oncologist who acts as Dr. Eddé in the film, and Dr. Lydia Dugdale, Professor of Medicine and Director of the Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons and author of The Lost Art of Dying, moderated by Shanny Peer.

What does it mean to die “peacefully”? Is it possible to find grace and joy in something so solemn that we generally turn away from? That death has the power to grant forgiveness and empathy is the core tenet of Emmannuelle Bercot’s drama Peaceful, which explores a year in the life of a young man facing a terminal diagnosis. 

Benoît Magimel (The Piano Teacher) stars as Benjamin, a 39-year-old acting teacher who, after some months of back pain, learns that he has Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. It’s a brutal diagnosis not only for him, but also for his mother Crystal (Catherine Deneuve).

Luckily for Benjamin, he has a truly remarkable doctor, a model of compassion, in Dr. Eddé (Gabriel Sara), a real-life oncologist hired by Bercot as a consultant before deciding to cast him in the role of the doctor in his first-ever acting job. Dr. Eddé is calm, wise, and funny; he listens to Benjamin and his mother without giving in to their tendency toward denial and resistance. The real-life Dr. Gabriel Sara and the doctor he plays is the greatest surprise and asset of the film; he shows wisdom and generosity towards not only those in his ward but his employees as well.  Peaceful occasionally takes us out of the patients’ world and highlights the emotional strain put on the nurses and doctors, showing how terminal illness affects everyone.

Peaceful is unrivaled as a film that offers wisdom about how to behave around someone facing a terminal diagnosis, and how to face one’s own death with honesty and dignity. Dr. Eddé’s lessons to Benjamin and Crystal feel like messages aimed both to them and to the audience. The better we can prepare ourselves for facing or accompanying a loved one entering the final stage of life, the more peaceful death can be.

The New York Times reviewed the film and featured Dr. Gabriel Sara.  Other reviews include those in Le Monde and La Croix.

Dr. Gabriel Sara describes his approach to terminal illness in a podcast episode about My Experiments with the Truth featured on the Road to Resilience podcast presented by Mount Sinai Hospital.

This event is co-sponsored by the Columbia Maison Française, the Columbia Center for Clinical Medical Ethics in the Department of Medicine at Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons, and the Medical Humanities program at Columbia University.