Bethune, Donald Brittain, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Bethune. This film tells the story of Norman Bethune, a Canadian doctor who managed to beat the tuberculosis he came down with as a medical student, and go on to invent many new surgical tools and techniques. He had a passion for bringing medicine to where it was most needed, and that led him to go to Spain and create field hospitals for the Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War. There he created the first mobile blood bank. Eventually he grew disillusioned with the progress of the war, so he moved on to China, where he aided partisan forces led by Mao Zedong, who were then fighting the Japanese imperialist forces. He single-handedly created field hospitals out of the caves where the wounded were left to die. No matter how bad things got, he still operated on and treated the wounded with whatever was available. He eventually died of blood poisoning after cutting himself during a surgery that he had to do without gloves. Despite his obsessive tendencies towards his work, he was also a playful character who partied hard during his off hours, though this later went away in China because the conditions were so terrible and he was so overworked. The film was not shown in the U.S. for many years because of Bethune’s connection to Mao and his communist sympathies, even though he died before the People’s Republic ever happened. It’s a very powerful film about a fascinating human being, made more powerful by the narration containing quotes from Bethune’s many letters and diaries. I love this kind of historical documentary, so this was a joy to watch, though the sections on Bethune’s efforts to bring socialized medicine to Canada made me cringe, not because I’m against it, but because it was hard to watch Canadians treating this as history, and something that obviously had to be done, when it has yet to be done in my own country.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: *****+. Overall Rating: *****.

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