On my behalf, much love and respect ALWAYS goes out to those who touch their hearts and provide it to others. I’m not talking about romance, I’m talking about an act that goes a bit further than that. The act of acknowledging those less fortuante than us who share life on this big blue marble. It’s hard to comprehend how some of us have more than others, but for unkown reasons, that’s how it is. There’s your share of selfish assholes who thrive on their own luck or success no matter who they stomp on or ignore, and than there’s the chunk who have a totally different outlook, live life for the greater good and reach out in order to keep mankind alive and aware that good people exist and they’re all over the world. Proof of that is with MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors without Borders). Who’s MSF you ask? Well, here you go. Founded in France in 1971, with an added U.S. (NYC) basecamp in 1990, MSF is a 40-year-old organization supporting 27,000 volunteers in more than 60 countries. They won the ‘99 Nobel Peace Prize for providing comfort to victims of war in some of the world’s most dirt poot and dangerous places. Most volunteers are local, around 10% of MSF volunteers are professionals who come from Europe, Asia and the Americas in general. This intriguing film follows four international volunteers as they confront and cope with the challenges of doing the best they can to save lives in the war-torn Democratic Repbulic of the Congo and post-war Monrovia, Liberia.
Shot over the course of two years in various African locations, Pakistan, Canada, the US and the MSF headquarters in Paris, France, the film was meant, in the director’s words, to “explore the limits of idealism” by “immersing people in the MSF experience.” One of the film’s most riviting images is the sign outside Monrovia’s Mamba Point Hospital that reads: “Free Hospital Care.” While the U.S. still has issues and debates universal care, free life-saving surgeries are available in the capital city, one of Africa’s poorest countries — thanks to the volunteers of MSF. Dr. Chris Brashiers has seen and been through a lot during his time and journeys with MSF. On his latest return to Liberia, the camera captures his response as his car rolls down the streets of Monrovia: “It’s nice not seeing anyone with guns,” he gladly expresses. Brashier, an Australian now based in France, describes his discovery that “sometimes when people are poor, they’re more human.” Having experienced MANY life-changing MSF tours, Brashier currently finds it hard to live in a European city where people seem to be acting shallow, instead of living anything like a real existence. “Most people in the world have a difficult time getting through the day, the week, a year,” Brashier says. “I wouldn’t have known that. Now I know.”
There’s lots of graphic scenes that go beyond anything you may have experienced on an episode of “ER.” If you’re a squeamish type, I advise to turn away during scens of which include acts like amputations for example. A child with a head strangly disfigured by a strange swelling. A man whose intestines have exploded from his stomach moans as an MSF doctor, working with only a fucking flashlight, slowly massages the organs back inside the man’s body. The doctors are committed, exhausted, resigned and as admirable to watch as any “A-list” actor. In a world of over-the-top stress and anguish, resentment obviously flares. Chiara Lepora, a hard-charging Italian doctor and Head of Mission flies into troublespots in an attempt to solve personal disputes and winds up burying her face in her hands as personal critiques blow into accusations and insults. “Anger and frustration are part of the process,” she observes, but it’s useless to get mad at each other: “We need to get mad at war.” (Having watched this seen I recall saying to myself. It’s not war we should be mad at, but those who erupt it. Mankind in my personal view will always be it’s own worst enemy.)
One prevailing problem is the anxiety of wanting/trying to do more with always limited resources. Lepora sums up the anger and frustration of Davindra Gill, a young doctor doing his first (and probably his last) MSF stint in Liberia. She compares Gill to Col. Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and concludes: “If you put a reasonable person in an unreasonable situation, becoming crazy is the most reasonable thing you can do.” I found that comment to be pretty rational and understanding considering the circumstances. Liberia is bad, Lepora says, but the West Point district of the capital, is “catastrophic” (a fact the camera crew confirms with harsh imagery). Still, she confesses, “not to intervene would be a criminal mistake.” Becoming a MSF volunteer comes with LOTS of baggage that entails tough choices, the main one being that “you can’t help everyone.” Lepora, who seems the most dominant spirit in the film, begins to break down. Her always-smiling face is suddenly morphed by the tremors of suppressed emotion as she struggles to explain the “nonsense” of trying to leave the battlefronts and return to another life, still knowing that “there is something that needs to be done and you aren’t there to be doing it.” “The Congo is a car crash,” she says with a tearful smile. “And there are car crashes everywhere.”
Some of the four doctors will move on to other tours. Some will quit after their first experience. One of those who will return is Tom Krueger, a surgeon from Tennessee who calls his volunteering “a selfish thing.” He explains his discovery that “fixing other people is a way of fixing myself. I can’t fix the world but I can find a broken person and put them back together. That’s something.” I agree with him 100%. After having viewed this film, I had to pause my life for a while and be thankful for all the things and people I have surrounding me as I’ve ALWAYS said “No matter how hard you think you have it, there are those who have 10x harder than you.” It’s fact and I’m so happy that Living in Emergency exposes there’s always those with a good heart to do the best they can to bring comfort or a smile to someone’s face who needs way more than some of us do.
ROARS: 5 Out of 5
Rating: N/R / Run Time: 1 Hr. 30 Min.
Cast: Various (as themselves)
Director: Mark Hopkins
(Starts Fri, June 4th)