Life of Ambulance Workers through the Pandemic of Lost Desires (Mountains and Heaven in Between)

Strikingly non-intrusive and employing the observational mode, Dymytro Hryshko’s Mountains and Heaven in Between (2022) traverses through a plenitude of vignette-like chapters faced by ambulance workers. The film is set in the quaint village of Kolochava, which lies amidst peaks of snow-covered Transcarpathian Mountains, in Western Ukraine.

The narrative follows a crew of ambulance workers, including lead nurse Tatiana Bulik, as they answer distress calls from citizens during the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some have genuine medical conditions such as heart ailments or pancreatic problems. Others, however, suffer from alcoholism or simply seek a conversation and reassurance from medical professionals. Amongst the very nature of these distress calls, one can seek out a certain existing binary, or rather a contrary, between the nature of desire exhibited by these patients on both a conversational and subconscious level and professional treatment they desire, on a physical level.


The literary scholar, David B. Morris, who focuses on several manifestations of pain, lays out the notion of “medical eros” as opposed to “medical logos” in his book Eros and Illness (2017). Morris describes the concept of medical eros as desire with an “emotional, psychological and personal implication” within the context of illness [1].  After all, Eros was the Greek God of carnal love, symbolising fertility and desire. On the other hand, medical logos, or the nature of biomedicine, involves scientific rigour and evidence-based treatment of illnesses, arising out of reason. [2] Morris further argues that logos (reason) has dominated the field of medical science rather than eros (desire) which has been pushed into “the shadows”. [3]


The loneliness that pervades the patients who inhabit the quaint village of Kolochava reveal the notion of medical eros throughout Mountains and Heaven in Between (2022). The conversation between Tatiana Bulik and the 65-year old patient, who sits undressed in the cold as if waiting for a conversation. Apart from a nose bleed and drinking a litre of vodka the previous day, the man has no notable illness. Yet, his words reveal a lot to Tatiana, “You know what the problem is – I need a woman around the house.” Cheekily, Tatiana responds, “Then get married!” Later on, he requests Tatiana to take off her mask but she refuses due to medical protocols and fines she would be subjected to. “Take a look at Czechia. No one wears masks there. You’re bullshitting us” – he retorts. She simply tells him to eat a few walnuts before leaving, while he thanks her politely for a conversation. Unfettered desires and psychological loneliness, amidst the pandemic, almost makes him seek out an ambulance.


Apart from the scenes themselves, several filmmaking techniques also help solidify the same medical eros. Take for instance, the band of musicians who are used throughout the narrative in the film’s editing - to give an interlude and add a sense of harmony to the otherwise logos dominated workings of the ambulance crew. One of the musicians proudly utters: “One litre of vodka! That’s our Covid vaccine!” – before the group embark on a sleigh ride, while singing folk songs. Later in the film, the musicians are also shown giving a performance during a wedding scene, taking place supposedly during the middle of the pandemic – where none of the guests don any masks. Dymytro Hryshko’s treatment of the scene is also strikingly unique from the rest of the film as he pans his camera slowly to reveal different groups of people in the wedding as they attend the ceremony – in unison. This is a stark contrast when viewed in comparison to the rest of the film where static and contained frames bereft of movement portray the workings of the ambulance crew during their interactions with patients.


After this sequence, a contrasting sequence is presented in the film – which can be symbolically read as differentiating the medical eros from the medical logos. The ambulance workers repeatedly undergo hefty sanitation techniques in their hazmat suits – almost in a sub-human manner. The ambulance workers are as isolated as the patients diagnosed with Covid-19, if not more. This brings to mind Morris’s suggestion about the “invisible realms of biopower” (alias medical logos) which tends to “rope off eros” and “isolate patients”. [4] The film reveals that more than isolating individuals and patients across Kolochava, the biomedical response to the pandemic has isolated healthcare workers to a larger extent.


Morris believes that “contraries can join forces and create unexpected unities” in the context of medical logos and eros. [5] Throughout the film, the care and empathy expressed by medical professionals towards distress calls and the following unexpected casual conversations promote these unities – creating a vacuum where desire and reason coexist even though for a little while. Morris also quotes Aristotle who suggested that eros can be read as a “life force” which undergoes a “personal struggle with thanatos (death wish).” [6] Several patients such as the nauseous Mariyka who drinks, almost to her death, only to be rescued, are reminiscent of this struggle between life and death, or between desire and reality.


Mountains and Heaven in Between tells multiple tales of poignancy, longing, desire and needs contrasted with ambulance workers driven by reason and duty, who meditate to be their saviours in remote conditions.



Rahul Sharma

ELTE BTK Film Studies


[1] Morris, D. B. (2017). Eros and Illness. Harvard University Press. pp. 18- 21.

[2] ibid pp. 18–19.

[3] ibid pp. 25–26.

[4] ibid p. 22.

[5] ibid p. 25.

[6] ibid p. 20.