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By Merle Bertrand | June 6, 2008

There are a lot of films out there that we, as a viewing audience, really want to see. Then there are those films that we have absolutely no interest in seeing. Finally, there are those films we don’t really want to see, know that we probably should see them anyway… and then are glad we did once we have. “Triage: Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma” is one such film.

“Triage” brings last decade’s horrific headlines from Somalia, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo back to our consciousness through the world-weary eyes of Dr. James Orbinski. Dr. Orbinski witnessed those horrors firsthand as a field doctor in all of those epicenters of tragedy with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, or, as it’s better known in the States, Doctors Without Borders).

In this somber documentary from director Patrick Reed, Dr. Orbinski, who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of MSF in 1999 while serving as their President, returns to all three countries, more to gauge their progress than to engage in nostalgic reminisces. We hear him recount, in unflinching detail, some of the most horrific experiences imaginable and witness his reunions with people whose lives he saved and with whom he helped save lives.

It’s no surprise that Dr. Orbinski has become such an eloquent and impassioned spokesman for MSF, as his calm and assured presence and inner strength come through here. So, too, does his despair, grief, and rage at a world in which we as a species allow genocide to happen in the first place, although he only rarely allows that troubled side of his personality to peek out from beneath his outwardly serene demeanor.

As compelling as it is to watch, “Triage” is not a casual viewing experience. Instead, it’s a haunting, almost visceral experience that’s occasionally – thankfully – relieved by moments of humanity. In that sense, then, watching “Triage” gives the viewer a drastically diffused taste of what Dr. Orbinksi himself has seen and experienced.

Unfortunately, as evidenced by the ongoing genocide in Darfur, we as a species seem doomed to keep humanitarian heroes like Dr. James Orbinski plenty busy for years to come.

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