the Communist era, Poland was officially an atheist state. Yet, Dr. Zbigniew
Religa’s crusade to successfully perform the country’s first heart transplant surgery
was often denigrated as a desire to play god. The establishment would use any
rhetorical club to beat down innovation. Fortunately, Dr. Religa was not the
sort to hew to the Party line. Medicine will struggle to overcome politics in
Lukasz Palkowski’s Gods (trailer here), which screens on
the opening weekend of this year’s Panorama Europe, at the Museum of the Moving
was not the first Polish doctor to attempt a heart transplant. That was Prof.
Jan Moll, who was crucified by the medical authorities when the patient
rejected the donor heart. Although no longer pushing the frontiers of medicine,
Moll will serve as an informal advisor to Religa when he picks up his
transplant standard. Unfortunately, it will not happen in Warsaw. All the
directors of big urban clinics avoid controversy like the plague. To develop
the life-saving procedure, Dr. Religa will assume the directorship of a new
clinic in the provincial town of Zabrze. The clinic is fine (it should be,
considering Dr. Religa and his staff largely built it themselves from the
ground up), but the time away from his wife will wreck Religa’s marriage.
Religa’s eventual breakthroughs, Gods is
anything but a ringing endorsement of the old, oppressive system and its
socialized medicine. Just funding the clinic was quite a trick. Although Religa
is reluctant to ask for Party money, he has little options. Happily, he
connects with a regional boss, who is corrupt in a good way. Dr. Religa also
has no problem hiring junior surgeons who have been blackballed for their past
support of Solidarity.
Dr. Religa was quite a physician, but as played by the 6’ 6” Tomasz Kot, he
hardly looks like George Clooney in ER.
A tall, gaunt, stoop-shouldered chain-smoker, his Religa is far from a picture
of health. Frankly, it is easy to see why he was so driven to perfect heart
transplant surgery. Nevertheless, he projects a commanding presence that would
question, Gods is Kot’s show, but he
gets some key consults from veteran Polish actors Jan Englert as Prof.
Sitkowski, Religa’s skeptical former mentor, and Wladyslaw Kowalski as the wise
and compassionate Prof. Moll. Much like the trailblazing surgeon,
inter-personal relations are not exactly the strength of Krzysztof Rak’s
screenplay, which means Magdalena Czerwinska is stuck holding a rather
one-dimensional stick as Religa's neglected wife, Anna.
has an appealingly dry wit. It is also a first rate period production,
reproducing the general drabness of the late Communist era, as well as the
defiant manifestations of grooviness that periodically popped-up through the
cracks. In fact, it might well be difficult for a potential American distributor
to license several of the period-signifying pop songs for theatrical release,
so viewers intrigued by Gods should
make a point of seeing it on the festival circuit. Recommended for fans of
Polish cinema and medical dramas, Gods screens
Friday (5/29) at MoMI in Astoria Queens, as part the 2015 Panorama Europe.
Labels: Medical Dramas, Panorama Europe '15, Polish Films