ENGLISH SURGEON, THE: DVD
Dr. Henry Marsh is a renowned neurosurgeon from the UK, who lives with his wife in their comfortable South London home. But Dr. Marsh lives a double life - every year, for the past fifteen years (from 1992), the good doctor spends a few weeks in the Ukraine, offering free medical consultations and performing brain surgery on tumours deemed "inoperable" by Ukrainian doctors. In primitive conditions and without the proper tools, Marsh and his protégé, Dr. Igor Petrovich, perform some of the most highly complex and dangerous surgeries for a poverty-stricken and hope-deprived people. Filmed in the Ukrainian winter of 2007.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
At the beginning of this doco about English neurosurgeon Dr Henry Marsh, we see him in his workshop making a packing case. He talks about his love of carpentry; "I love using my hands," he says, reminding us of ex Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser's retort when accused of being elitist by not thinking of people who do physical labour. "Surgeons use their hands," he shot back sharply and pointedly, a remark with some depth to it. If you need further proof of how surgeons use their hands, take a look at this amazing story.
Of the many surprises and revelations, one of the first is the poverty of the Ukrainian medical system, where a young boy's brain scan can be done in a week's time, or today for double the price. This stark reality informs much of the film and puts Dr Henry Marsh's pro bono work in context. Not that Marsh is a saint, by the way; he's motivated by a genuine desire to help. After seeing first hand the appalling conditions in Kiev, he couldn't in all conscience NOT do something, anything, to help. But he's a pragmatic man, and he has little patience for bureaucracy or malfunctioning technology.
And beneath his pragmatism is a wonderful, caring humanity - and when he speaks of one of the operations on a young Russian girl that failed, you can sense his profound despair.
When this doco was filmed in the winter of 2007, Marsh and his Ukrainian neurosurgeon colleague Dr Igor Petrovich were preparing to operate on a young man whose brain tumour was to be removed - if the operation failed, his right side could be paralysed permanently. We follow this story, woven into the fabric of the film. And then we're there in the operating theatre, watching the man's skull being readied, the skin folded back to reveal the bone and the drilling begin. While he's fully awake.
The filmmakers follow Marsh into and out of the Kiev hospital, into and out of the home of his friend Igor, whose wife prepares meals. They drink vodka and beer and talk about their work. We're there, watching, listening, engaged. And the most compelling moments are those that show the two doctors discuss hopeless cases where they feel they must nevertheless try and give the patients some hope. Without lying.
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have written a marvellous, empathetic score and the film is neatly, tastefully edited. This multi-award winning doco is a riveting insight into something that goes on every day within reach of us all, but out of sight and mind.
Published April 23, 2009
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ENGLISH SURGEON, THE: DVD (M)
CAST: Documentary featuring Dr Henry Marsh and Dr Igor Petrovich
PRODUCER: Geoffrey Smith
DIRECTOR: Geoffrey Smith
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Graham Day
EDITOR: Kathy O'Shea
MUSIC: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
PRESENTATION: 16:9; DD 2.0
SPECIAL FEATURES: none
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
DVD RELEASE: November 5, 2008