In the middle of the endless steppes of the Kazakhstan expanses, Wild Field (Dikoe pole, 2008) protagonist Mitya (Oleg Dolin) runs a one-man medical centre. Life is hard and the steppe vast and empty, dwarfing the sparse population of hardened farmers, peasants, the odd military outcast and the young doctor. Mitya makes do with his meagre medical supplies, meeting every challenge with the same calm resignation in the face of humanity’s mortality. His know-how must extend to everything from a donkey with a stomach ache brought on from swallowing a tablecloth, to bullet wounds from marauding Kazakh riders.
Mitya ministers to all with never-ending patience and little comment. When faced with multiple casualties, he calls in the local veterinarian, who has a similar stalwart expression and resourceful air. Necessity is truly the mother of invention in this inhospitable place, if you’re a medical professional anyway. The tale of how Mitya came to live on the steppe is left untold, but the doctor remains to treat the people he says are “forgotten by God”. The forgotten are a large cast of eccentric characters, as wild and rough as the landscape itself. They move in and out of the plot in a series of anecdotal interactions with Mitya, who bears them all as calmly as he does the ever-changing weather.
The self-contained succession of stories lends Wild Field’s narrative an easy rhythm. Thankfully, director Mikheil Kalatozishvili has not succumbed to romanticism and the actors are both realistic and earthy.Mitya remains a man alone, except for one joyful moment when his fiancée finally comes to join him on the steppe. The reunion is tender but short-lived. She is unprepared to spend a life on the steppe and the following day flees to the city to marry another man. Mitya stares across the steppe, his face impassive; the city a million miles from his windswept home in the valley. If he is heartbroken, we never see it; the pain is borne silently and without drama.
While most of the film’s chapters remain distinct from one another, the common thread is the strange man Mitya spots on the hill by his house one day. The ominous figure appears regularly, watching the doctor from a distance, thwarting his investigations. The sense of threat and dread builds to an inevitable and startling conclusion, as the pair finally come face to face. Dolin plays his part superbly, with isolation and distance apparent in every movement of his lanky body. But Wild Field’s greatest star is the steppe itself. It fills every inch of the screen, an unforgettable landscape of grassy plains and sky. This heartbreakingly beautiful film will leave your mind full of the empty Kazakh landscape and your ears ringing with the large silence of the endless steppe.