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The year is 1917. We are in the Russian countryside. It is the middle of freezing winter. A pale young, newly educated doctor arrives. Having to deal with one medical challenge after another he soon becomes the center of everyone's attention. To soothe the impressions of human suffering he turns to morphine. Written by
Instead of doctor Zhivago meet doctor Polyakov: less romantic, more realistic, equally tragic
The title of the movie suggests us what to expect. However, it is not that simple. The fact that the plot is settled in 1917 could make us unsure, because that was a war year and the year of revolution, and this year couldn't be chosen accidentally. Also, in those years there wasn't much a local doctor away from big cities could do but perform basic surgery and relieve pain with no modern medications, so morphine was the symbol of what a patient could hope for. Then almost immediately we are surprised and confused again, when we are told that the movie was made after Bulgakov's autobiographical story (what is only partially correct).
But the fact is that the plot is not as simple as our expectations could be formed based on the title. It is really a war time (although we don't see battles we see how former hard times became even harder), revolution has important influence to the plot (how could it not?), lonely doctor with no professional experience has to deal with patients in these impossible conditions, and the title is not misleading, the use of morphine is significant and a trigger to many later events.
Though the movie is divided by appearing titles into a dozen fragments, it is very coherent with a firm time line and the whole story happens within several months. These interfering titles do not break it, sometimes the story simply continues in the same scene, but emphasize some events or persons. This might be supposed to make movie look artistic, however I don't find it necessary or useful, but more needlessly distracting.
The movie doesn't take any side when revolution happens. Bad things happen during revolution, and we see them, but bad things happen also unrelated to revolution, and we see them as well. As for medicine work that we see, I am uncertain if a hundred years ago morphine was really used for treating allergies (though it is possible that in this scene allergy was just an excuse), and the complicated birth seems to end too easy; CPR as we see in the movie has been invented decades later; the rest of events in hospital looks very realistic for the time and place.
And as for addiction... This is one of brutally, graphic realistic movies and can be compared to German Christiane F. (Kinder von ZOO Banhof), Canadian H or a bit less graphic Croatian Ta divna splitska noc and Swedish Under ytan. Too bad that kids have to grow up enough to be allowed to watch these movies (because of censorship and age restrictions), because it will already be too late for many of them when they grow up enough to satisfy the censors.
So, this is Russian plain, cold, empty, large, as we have been told many times before. But this is not Mikhalkov, this is not dr Zhivago and for sure not Turgenyev. Some scenes are not easy to watch. The movie is very dark, but we expect is because new Russian generation (like Zvyagintsev) prepared us for that, and Balabanov (Pro urodov i lyudey, Gruz 200) as director guarantees you that you won't be left undisturbed. If you think you can handle it, then do it, you won't regret.
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