A doctor with a shady past arrives in a small French town
A young doctor (Omar Sy) arrives in the small French town of Saint Maurice in the 1950s. He's there to relieve the town's outgoing GP, Dr. Parpalaid (Nicolas Marié), a careful clinician who often prescribed herbal tea and bed rest, much to the chagrin of the town's residents who felt their medical conditions required more serious treatment.
But the townsfolk are in luck - Dr. Knock is a very different kind of doctor. This is clear from the film's opening scene, a flashback showing Knock being pursued through the streets of his hometown Marseille by thugs. Knock is obviously shady: a conman, a gambler or worse. After fleeing his attackers he arrives at the docks and takes a job as a medical officer on a ship bound for India. He manages to convince everyone on board that he is a doctor and when the voyage concludes he expresses a desire to complete medical school.
The film then skips forward five years and a qualified Dr. Knock is proudly setting up shop in the sleepy alpine hamlet of Saint Maurice. Where Dr. Parpalaid saw a normal small town with a normal amount of medical afflictions, Dr. Knock sees opportunity. He offers free consultations for the town's citizens and then visits the pharmacist to tell him to expect an uptick in business.
The people of Saint Maurice are all of a sudden quite ill, bringing in riches for Dr. Knock. But things soon start to go wrong. The town's priest remains suspicious of the outsider GP and looks for dirt on him. Sure enough, a baddie from Dr. Knock's Marseille days appears in town with plenty of dirt. Dr. Knock then falls for Adele (Ana Girardot), a beautiful young farm worker, only to learn that she (ironically) has a very real and serious case of tuberculosis. And so Dr. Knock must work to keep his healthcare empire from falling over.
Based on Jules Romains' 1923 play Knock ou le Triomphe, a much-loved work of black comedy, Dr. Knock was directed by Lorraine Levy. But this adaptation falls flat, offering a very lightweight story that ultimately doesn't say anything. At the core of the story is that Dr. Knock is a fraudster: he blows into town and tells people that they have previously untreated conditions, all of which require regular consultations and lots of payments to Dr. Knock. All of this is established and then dealt with by trying for laughs, but there aren't enough, and we're left with an outcome that is decidedly implausible, silly and not that funny.
The film falters elsewhere. The fact that Dr. Knock is black in a small town comprised entirely of white people in the 1950s is never really acknowledged, save for a few vague mentions. Indeed most of the characters who enter the doctor's orbit don't really seem to know what they are doing. Whether it's the pharmacist's wife who tries to seduce Dr. Knock, or the rich old widow who represents the town's upper crust, the characters just seem to turn up and contribute little.
Despite the faults, there are a few things to like. The cinematography is often quite pleasant, the picture-postcard village and surrounding countryside is bathed in summer sunshine and looks wonderful. The score is also surprising and lovely. Omar Sy's portrayal of Dr. Knock has its moments, as do other performances, notably Ana Girardot as Adele.
But there is too much awry here. Between drama and comedy, nothing wins out - there's not much to laugh about and no moments of high tension either. The plot is far too muddled and watered down. What's left is just pretty pictures.