MORPHINE FILM REVIEW
Reviewed for Shockya.com and BigAppleReviews.net, linked to Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Alexei Balabanov
Screenwriter: Sergey Bodrov, based on short stories by Mikhail A. Bulgakov
With: Leonid Bichevin, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Andrey Panin, Svetlana Pismichenko, Katarina Radivojevic, Yuri Gertsman, Aleksandr Mosin
Streamed on: MUBI.com
Residents of rural Russia in 1917 might not have predicted the West would have an opioid crisis decades later, but they certainly had one in miniature in that fateful year that turned their society upside down. . The film is “Morphine”, directed by Aleksey Balabanov, who died five years after its realization at the age of fifty-four, leaving behind an impressive CV. Balabanov, whose “The Stoker” deals with a Yakut in shock after serving in the Afghan-Soviet war, tackles this film written by Sergei Bodrov based on short stories by Mikhail A. Bulgakov. (Several Bulgakov books are available in English on Amazon, including the 50th anniversary edition of “The Master and Margarita,” but if you act quickly, you can pick up the novelist’s “Notes of a Young Doctor,” the last copy available selling for $94.01., and that’s for the used edition.)
Aleksandr Simohnov is behind the lens in the film’s sets, a rural area with primitive housing that promises to show a character reaching for a ladder and climbing up to sing “If I Were a Rich Man”, but that remains a promise not outfit. Instead of a Hasidic community, however, we see people who in 1917 still believed in Jesus, but they had better change their religious ideology overnight if they want to enter the workers’ paradise. The action takes place during the Russian Revolution, specifically between February 1917, when kind moderate socialists like Alexander Kerensky were defeated a few months later as the Bolsheviks swept them away and brought Russia out of World War I.
If you’re an action fan, you’ll see plenty of it, although there are only a few scenes of Bolshevik soldiers demanding to see papers and, in one instance, bashing an aristocrat taking his last ride on horseback and carriage. The action in this film is largely indoor, although you’ll often see a group of nurses dressed as nuns running here and there to save potential patients who are breathing their last breaths in the snow. The movie may feel like it’s set around Yakuts, the coldest place on earth that once recorded a Fahrenheit temperature of 84 below zero, but incredibly, it’s only 126 miles away. as the crow flies from Moscow.
In the central role, Leonid Bichevin embodies the role of Doktor Polyakov, a 23-year-old who had to be kicked and shouted from Moscow to the rural town around Uglich, which today is a tourist spot in the administrative district of Yaroslavl. Polyakov is practically, in fact in two cases, bent over by residents without a doctor since the departure of a certain Leopold, a stroke of luck since on a busy day, the new sawmill has twenty-two patients. But here is a case of “Doctor, heal yourself.” Treating a dying patient by pumping on his chest and breathing into his mouth, he contracts diphtheria. Suffering pain from the disease, he gained access to morphine, which served as a beginner’s guide to heroin at the time. Since there may have been a shortage of Tylenol and Advil, he injects himself with morphine. When that wears off, another dose, until it’s fairly predictable that he’s addicted.
And boy, can Polyakov show you what it’s like to go through weaning, which he’s had to go through many times when a nurse watches the limited supply and urges him to seek treatment. He may have been mad at the woman, but he gets a door prize: an affair with nurse Anna Nikolayevna (Ingeborga Dapkunaite) and, in a few cases, he’s successful with an aristocratic woman who poses as FDR with a long cigarette holder. while the doc fiddles with his body.
And what’s a movie about a doctor without showing gore? In one scene, he amputates a woman’s leg after shredding her in a flax mill. Balabanov offers us a close-up of the member of the poor lady. In another case – you vote for whichever is goriest – he performs a tracheotomy on a teenage girl who could barely breathe, first researching the procedure in a book and then moving on to slitting the patient’s neck. Internist-obstetrician-ear-nose-throat-general surgeon delivers baby after cleaning sloppy technique by midwife who sprinkled new mother’s vagina with sugar to coax unborn baby out .
To ensure his credentials as a nifty indies purveyor, the director lays out the action with desaturated colors, helping to project the miserable atmosphere of the campaign, while trying to match the carnage on the movie tables. operation with scenes of the doctor vomiting – in a situation throwing up on a dirtier toilet than the worst set-up in Danny Boyle’s 1996 film “Trainspotting”.
I guess the closest scenes to idiosyncratic rural life in American movies are “Twin Peaks”, but the cabins there are Trump towers compared to the snowy dwellings here. The film is well worth your attention, the chapters are marked idiosyncratically and if it was a Lillian Gish entertainment. People are all imperfect – even the nurse having an affair with the doctor injects herself with morphine, envious perhaps and wanting to jerk like her doctor boyfriend like a person with no clothes walking in the ugly snow would. The melodramatic finale, which takes place in a movie theater offering a movie that makes the doctor and the entire audience laugh hysterically, is quite surprising.
If you can’t make it to the Czech Republic next month to see this movie’s revival next month at the Karlovy Vary festival, you might consider getting it instead by subscribing to MUBI, where you can get a preview. -Taste independent films for free for seven days.
In Russian with English subtitles.
111 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
History – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+