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Montreal World Film Festival, Part 3

When you come right down to it, serial killing is just another form of addiction. Like drugs or watching three or more movies a day. That's what I was thinking after seeing "Distance" and Alexey Balabanov's "Morphine" on the same evening.

In the latter film, based on a collection of short stories by the Soviet writer Mikhail Bulgakov, a young doctor takes up residence in a grim and frozen outpost in Siberia. It's 1917, and far away a revolution is brewing, but all that reaches this Tsarist MASH unit are rumors of war. The doctor starts his practice on an inauspicious note by inadvisably giving a man dying of diptheria mouth-to-mouth respiration. Foamy stuff, that. As a precaution the doctor is given a vaccine against the disease but has a bad reaction. A helpful nurse gives him a shot of the title drug to take the edge off. Big mistake.

Soon the doctor is whiling away the tedium between graphically amputating mangled limbs and shtupping the bankrupt general's saucy widow by dipping into the dispensary for another taste of the wonder drug. The revolution is spreading, but though the opiate of the people might be religion, the medical profession prefers the real thing.

Balabanov's adaptation (he took up the project after the Sergei Bodrov - who wrote the screenplay and planned to direct it - died, in an avalanche) draws on the twisted humor and stark irony of his previous film "Cargo 200" and reflects the back comic sensibility of Bulgakov (author also of the surreal classic, "The Master and Mararita"). Relentless bleak but irrepressibly jolly, it's broken up by jolts of absurdist exhilaration. Perhaps like the titular drug itself.

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