There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
While working in his garden in provincial Ukraine, sad-eyed Maryan Dolishniy is struck with an epileptic fit, revealing a brain tumor that will kill him. Dolishniy’s only hope is Dr. Igor Kurilets, a maverick Kiev neurosurgeon, and, by extension, Dr. Henry Marsh, the titular British subject who taught Kurilets most everything he knows. Geoffrey Smith’s beautifully shot and edited documentary follows Marsh’s 2007 trip to Ukraine, one of many he’s made to the country since the Iron Curtain’s fall, culminating in a smashingly suspenseful sequence in which the good doctors operate on Dolishniy, keeping him awake while Kurilets burrows through his skull with a Bosch cordless household drill. It’s easy to discern why Smith was attracted to Marsh, a brilliant surgeon given to blunt-but-poetic pronouncements (neurosurgery, he says, “is a bit like Russian roulette with two revolvers”) who enjoys woodworking on the side, sending off secondhand medical supplies in homemade crates. But throughout, it’s hard to wonder whether the more compelling character isn’t the Ukrainian who’s constantly fighting a KGB-controlled medical apparatus and fancies himself a Cossack warrior of the operating room. —MD