Rocky Soil

A young doctor struggles to bring medicine and modernity to a highland Polish village. Original title: Skalna ziema

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Beautiful cinematography and the authenticity of filming on-location (in Southern Poland, at the foot of the Carpathian mountains) give life to this otherwise hokey short “documentary”: the landscapes are real enough (!), but an actor plays the doctor—who also narrates, giving the film an additional feeling of subjectivity—and many of the incidents are staged. The climax, for example, ends with the death of a young highlander, who continues to breathe even after kicking the bucket. A bit earlier, to show the scary backwardness of these people, the camera zooms in on an old woman’s face to a grotesque degree as she does some hoodoo-voodoo to cure the kid. Juxtapose the doctor looking always calm, cool, collected. More subtlety: an old man visits the doctor but is scared off by mention of a possible infection resulting from ill-treatment of a carbuncle; he flees the hospital and is last seen hoofing it through a cemetery! The film ends with its saintly doctor bemoaning backwoods ignorance and suffering just enough of a crisis-of-faith to produce a Hollywood (albeit with goat cheese) ending. But even as we understand that the highlanders are the “rocky soil” in which the doctor’s enlightened practice(s) struggles to grow, we suppress our sighs for the sake of technique. It’s a well made film burdened by a bad script.

Rocky Soil is bad for writers, good for cameramen.

Włodzimierz Borowik, 1956

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