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The rural doctor: a caring way of life that much harder to find today

By Pablo Suárez
For the Herald

POINTS: 7

 

“I believe the protagonist of my film, Dr. Arturo Serrano, rather than synthesize the work of rural doctors, in fact represents a way of thinking and practicing medicine that’s harder and harder to find. To him, his patients are persons, not a lung or a sick liver, or ‘the patient in room 515,’” says Darío Doria, director of the thoughtful documentary Salud rural (Rural Health), now showing at the Gaumont movie theatre. “Arturo knows all of them, and if a new patient arrives, he takes the necessary time to get to know them. Today’s medicine seldom works this way.” Doria adds.

Salud rural takes place in Santo Domingo, a small town in the province of Santa Fe, and you could say it’s a humanistic chronicle of the work of Dr. Serrano in the rural hospital where he works. In its most basic sense, Dr. Serrano does what all doctors do: he checks up his patients’ conditions, administers medication, and gives diagnoses and prognoses. Yet what makes all the difference is how he does it: with tremendous devotion, much kindness, immense serenity, and always willing to ease their psychological pain as well; never with a condescending attitude, never in an impersonal way, and always giving them as much of his time as possible.

His patients don’t tend to have any health coverage and are usually persons living on meagre incomes, which the medical system at large tends to neglect in favour of those who can afford the rising costs of medical treatments. This, of course, makes the work of Dr. Serrano — who, by the way, even makes house calls — all the more essential.

Despite the difficult, sometimes even dire circumstances the patients are in, the filmmaker’s eye is far from wallowing into their suffering. But he’s doesn’t sugarcoat their reality either. Doria’s judicious camera has found the perfect balance in exposing with enough detail what viewers need to see and at the same time its keeps a certain distance in order not to be invasive.

But more than the symptoms of a given illness, the camera clearly focuses on the bond established between this unusual doctor and his often collaborative patients. It inquires into the human process of healing and dealing with pain.

Doria also handles the photography and the editing, and he does a great job in both regards. Shot in luminous black and white, with a fine array of shades of grey as well as both tangible textures and voluminous depth, the pristine images in Salud rural acquire a serene life as slices of life unfold.

The editing is neat, smooth, and never calls attention to itself for its goal is to provide the right tempo while being imperceptible. And that’s another remarkable achievement of Salud rural: Doria knows better than to intrude, so his presence as a filmmaker is erased from the film. Better said, Doria is present in the care paid to every single aspect of the film, but his presence happens to be rightly invisible, allowing Salud rural to unfold according to Dr. Serrano’s way of understanding medicine.

Production notes

Salud Rural (Argentina, 2014). Produced and directed by Darío Doria. Written by Luis Camardella. Cinematography and editing: Darío Doria. With Dr. Arturo Serrano, townspeople of Santo Domingo, Las Colonias, Santa Fe. Running time: 81 minutes.

 

@pablsuarez

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