Médecins Sans Frontières

A new French film, panned by the critics, is set to become a box office sensation. More people have seen it on its first day of release than any film in France for two years – 360,299 in all.

Called Supercondriaque, it is the story of a thoroughly modern Frenchman who refuses to kiss women for fear of catching an illness, panics at the slightest sneeze and douses himself in anti-bacterial handwash when he goes out. The neurotic Romain Faubert is the main character in the film that has sparked a nationwide debate on what one newspaper called ‘the disease of the century’ in France: hypochondria.

Commentators have blamed the condition for the mammoth health expenditure that fuels high taxes, budget deficits and low growth in the French economy. The statistics are almost hard to believe. The French consume forty per cent more pills than most of their European neighbours and spend thirty-five billion euros on medicines, compared with eighteen billion in Italy and only twelve billion in Britain.

The film’s popularity stems from its star Dany Boon, who plays Faubert, despite the damning of his performance in two reviews as disastrous and charmless. Yet the character he plays brings to the fore a striking social trend. Faubert lives alone and has only one friend: his GP. When he tries to seduce a woman, he entices her to the shower to make sure she’s microbe-free.

Medics say he is typical of the sort of patient they come across with increasing frequency. ‘They are always complaining about something,’ said Sauveur Boukris, a lecturer at the Medical Faculty at Diderot University. ‘We reassure them with blood tests and scans but nothing works. They continue to have multiple tests.’

A survey published to coincide with the release of the film shows that thirteen per cent of French people were hypochondriacs – convincing themselves that they were ill, in the absence of any symptoms. The condition is not new. It was the theme of The Imaginary Invalid, the seventeenth-century play by Molière. However, specialists say it has been exacerbated by a healthcare system that sets few limits on the number of consultations or medicines available to patients.

The NHS in Britain is not as lax. In fact many medicines here are not sanctioned to patients unless they pay for them.

Vincent Renard, the Chairman of the Union of Medical Teachers, said that far from offering reassurance, the numerous scans and X-rays generated new demands and increased fears. The welfare system in France recorded a deficit of 16.2 billion euros last year despite costing households about fifteen per cent of their income in taxes.

Faubert, the star of the film, finds a cheap solution to his phobia. He falls in love with his GP’s sister, played by Alice Pol.

If you are a hypochondriac, I suggest you emigrate to France where you are well served without being looked upon as a freak of nature. And find yourself the pretty sister of a GP and live happily ever after. With your paranoia in full bloom, who dares say that La Marseillaise is in decline? It merely suffers from a bout of anxiety.

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