The sweeping plains of Kazakhstan’s steppes form a photogenic backdrop to Russian helmer Mikhail Kalatozishvili’s drama “Wild Field.” A contempo-set story about a Russian doctor ministering as best he can, despite lack of supplies, to the thinly scattered population around him, this solidly crafted effort ticks all the right boxes but doesn’t quite achieve greatness. Rumored to be headed for Venice this summer after multiple prize wins at the Sochi fest, the pic could do niche biz for adventurous distribs offshore and earn respectable but not knockout coin at home.
Medical man Dmitri Morozov, or Mitya, as he’s usually known (played by handsome, rangy-limbed up-and-comer Oleg Dolin), lives in a ramshackle house in a valley dip on the wild, tree-free steppes — a Kazakh region mostly populated by Russians, who make a hard-scrabble living raising livestock. From time to time, indigenous Kazakh riders launch attacks against the farmers. Ranchers-vs.-outlaws theme, coupled with pic’s panoramic landscape, raises comparisons with Hollywood Westerns, making this an “eastern,” a familiar genre in Russian cinema.
One day, Dmitri spies an ominous figure on a nearby hill who seems to be watching Dmitri’s house, but refuses to come closer when beckoned. Knowing how trigger-happy the locals are, Dmitri doesn’t mention it to anyone else, even though there are rumors of bandits in the area.
Instead, he gets on with the business of healing as best he can, given that he has only basic medical equipment at hand. Fortunately, the locals know a trick or two of their own, like how to revive a seemingly dead man who’s been struck by lightning by burying him up to the neck overnight. (Readers are not advised to try this at home.) When he needs to treat two shooting victims, Dmitri has to call the veterinarian for medical assistance.
Events, including a visit from Dmitri’s g.f. (Daniela Sroyanovich), unfold in episodic fashion like self-contained anecdotes, endowing the pic with an easy, gentle rhythm that rolls along nicely. Also known as a producer, helmer Kalatozishvili (“Mysteries”), the grandson of famous Soviet helmer Mikhail Kalatozov (“I Am Cuba”), has a confident touch and clearly empathizes with these rural folk, but neither romanticizes nor mocks them. Thesps fall in step with quietly effective performances, the supports, such as Roman Madianov as the local cop, playing a little broader to generate comic effect.
If pic has a fault, it’s that Petr Lutsik and Alexei Samoriadov’s script is a trifle predictable, building to a tragedy you just know is going to happen from the first reels. The only thing really transcendent here is the landscape itself, gloriously lensed by Petr Dukhovskoy. Soundtrack, by regular Kalatozishvili collaborator Alexei Aigi, deftly melds Slavic-sounding accordion airs with more Eastern instrumentation.