Review: The Neurosurgeon (2020)

Running time: 80 min

Director: Magdalena Zagała

Country: Poland

Genre: biography documentary

Our brains learn, remember, solve problems, and they are at the same time fragile, deceptive, and mysterious. The winner of Ewa Pięta Award for Best Documentary at this year’s AAPFF is The Neurosurgeon/ Neurochirurg, a film that gives an inside look at world-leading neurosurgeons’ daily work and work philosophy.

The main subjects Dr. Mirosław Zabek and Dr. Krystof Bankiewicz are two pioneers in the field of vascular microneurosurgery. Both have lots of titles and awards after their names, and most importantly, they are the experts who have cured some of the rarest brain diseases and performed surgeries that have never been done in history. Following these two legendary Polish neurosurgeons in meeting rooms and operating rooms, the film not only presents a career and working environment less familiar to the public but also showcases the process of difficult medical surgeries and a heart-to-heart talk about brain diseases and death.

 

Blending both the doctors’ and patients’ experiences, The Neurosurgeon documents five families coming to a Warsaw hospital looking for help. There aren’t many dramatic moments in The Neurosurgeon. Rather, it’s in little moments we the audience recognize fear, compassion, and love. The first case is a young father of three, who has a recurrence of a brain tumor. The camera captures him asking his wife to keep his wedding ring safe, and it is uncertain when he can put it back on. The second patient has been agonizing over her uncontrolled jerky body movements due to Parkinson’s disease. The film also introduces the audience to AADC deficit, an incurable genetic disease that affects children’s breathing, speech, and motor development. Around the world, there are about 130 children diagnosed with AADC. Two of them are in Poland and appear in this documentary. The last case is a popular Polish actor facing the risk of losing his ability to ever speak again. The camera goes into the operating room with these patients, filming neurosurgeons cut a bony opening in their skulls, conduct deep brain stimulation, and other medical procedures that are otherwise not seen by the general public. After recoveries, patients almost magically regain control over their body and are able to function more normally.

Although health impairment is a heavy topic, the tone of The Neurosurgeon is rather calm and even cheerful in the sense that it celebrates technological advancements, vibrant science communication, and the positivity to embrace uncertainty in life. There are times when a doctor has to refuse a surgery for the consideration of the patient’s life quality, or simply because there is nothing the doctor can help with. There are also times when the doctor sees the patient coming back to breath and gain a second chance to live.

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