Deneuve plays Crystal, a concerned mother who navigates the terminal cancer diagnosis of her adult son Benjamin (Benoît Magimel). Over the course of four seasons, as Benjamin’s condition deteriorates, Crystal must know that she will outlive her own son and what that means for the future. While this angle might have been a more compelling aspect for the film’s lens, it mostly plays out on the periphery of what becomes an overloaded set orbiting Benjamin.

Segmented by these seasons, the first three parts of the film each begin with the hospital’s oncology department exchanging stories of patients and their families, sharing their emotional responses, and receiving advice from department head Dr. Eddé ( Gabriel Sara) before happily singing “Lean on Me” in English. Eddé believes in compassionate and empathetic treatment of patients. He wears ties of his patient’s favorite animals. He believes that crying with them is okay Sara’s warm performance is the most natural in the film, which clashes with the more overly dramatic tenor of the other performers, and every time he leaves the narrative, his lack is deeply felt.

In Benjamin, a “failed actor” who became a theater teacher in the face of his own mortality, Magimel won the César for best actor. It certainly does most acting in the film as he goes through all the stages of grieving (denial, anger, negotiation, depression, acceptance) after his stage IV pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Going through them, Bercot and his co-screenwriter Marcia Romano do not miss a moment to remind us that this man is an artist, who feels things deeply.

Benjamin’s acting class is used to contrast his denial of his impending death against the importance of being in the moment as an actor. That’s a heavy metaphor on its own, but it’s also not done a favor by the very nature of these classes. Acting classes are awkward and uncomfortable, designed to push performers out of their comfort zone and into a natural state of being. However, they are also uncomfortable to watch because you see the process and the work. Looking at the work in class, it’s hard not to see the work that Magimel does in his dramatic scenes with Deneuve.

Later, after sharing his diagnosis with his class, one of his students visits him, performing an impassioned, tearful monologue as he lies in a hospital bed. When he laments that he hasn’t made anyone happy, one of his doctors, Eugenie (Cécile de France), comments that this is not what she saw earlier. He then notices that the student simply has a crush on his teacher. Benjamin’s summary of his life and perceived failures in this scene is meant to be profound, but the dialogue is every bit as cliche as his student’s crush.