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United Kingdom 2008
Directed by
Geoffrey Smith
92 minutes
Rated M


4 stars

The English Surgeon

Geoffrey Smith’s documentary following the pro bono work of English neurosurgeon Henry Marsh in a small hospital in Kiev is an unexpectedly affecting account of the human condition. The KGB-owned establishment which is run by neurosurgeon Igor Kurilets, is battling lack of both resources and experience and for the past 15 years Marsh has been making an annual trip to the hospital to try to help out his embattled younger colleague. One may be sceptical about the merits of conventional Western medicine and Marsh’s empiricist approach to disease but what moves one here is, within those parameters, his commitment to his self-appointed task.

Smith focuses his film on a patient who suffers from epileptic fits as a result of a benign tumour in his brain that Marsh is going to remove. Around this are woven other people stories, including a failed operation by Marsh on a young girl for which his ongoing work in the Ukraine is possibly an atonement, and a revealing look at the crudity of resources that Kurilets works with compared to what Marsh is used to. There is a scene in which an attractive young woman is revealed to have an inoperable brain tumour that according to Marsh will send her blind and kill her within 5 years. That both men seem unable to reconcile the disease with her physical appearance seems an odd response from scientists, even one that it hard to accept, making it seem almost staged, but generally, what moves one here is their dogged, self-abnegating persistence in the face of the unfairness of life.The film’s sympathetic score is by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis who previously worked together on The Proposition (2005).

Available from: Madman

 

 

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