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In Aches and Ills, a Village Comes to Life

Ma dai fu de zhen suo / Doctor Ma’s Country Clinic (Cong Feng, People’s Republic of China) (European Premiere)
Berlinale Forum, Wednesday, February 11
Read the Forum synopsis

The Berlinale Journal offers a consummate précis:

"Dr Ma Bingcheng runs a popular clinic for traditional Chinese medicine in the barren Province of Gansu in northeastern China. The arduous work in the rough fields has left its mark on his patients. The physician takes their pulse, mixes the appropriate medicine from roots, herbs and tree bark, and gently asks questions to try to discover the source of the illness. Documentary filmmaker Cong Feng patiently listens to the conversations. The healing that Ma Dai Fu De Zhen Suo (Doctor Ma’s Country Clinic) offers does not just treat the diseases, but also the emotional ailments of those left behind by the economic boom in China."

 

What can I add. We learn Doctor Ma’s hardscrabble path to medicine, studying and practicing at the same time, his practice growing with his increasing competence. His clinic, scarcely larger than a dormitory room, combines a waiting room, pharmacy, consulting room, and a bed for transfusions and other severe cases. Consultations are necessarily a community affair, as patients gain medical knowledge from their neighbors’ stories.

Doctor Ma’s patients talk openly to the camera, sharing family troubles and age-old farmer complaints of 13-hour days in the fields with little gain to themselves, as they are exploited by their bosses.

"It’s hopeless here in the village." "We are too ragged and dirty to be filmed."

Life is so hard here that young people run away, and wives are bought. The film challenges our conceptions about human trafficking while confronting the cruelty of the practice.

The film ends in an elevated, isolated place where a brightly decorated coffin is carried by a horse-drawn cart and buried in a mound marked only by a stick. A little drunk, Doctor Ma talks about the graves and their tenants, all of them known to him in this harsh land.

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