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A portrait of a life given over to charity, Georges Gachot‘s Beatocello’s Umbrella introduces us to a doctor whose sole non-medical pleasure, playing the cello, is itself a means of funding the nonprofit hospital he runs. Marshalling more than enough material to prove its subject’s impact, the film doesn’t draw out enough of his personality to justify feature-doc treatment as opposed to a magazine feature or TV news profile; commercial appeal is very limited, though few viewers will be unimpressed with the altruism on display.
Swiss pediatrician Beat Richner is the patron saint of Cambodia’s Kantha Bopha nonprofit, a chain of five hospitals that have treated more than 10 million of the nation’s children over the last 20 years. Not only are treatments and hospital stays free, but the poorest families are given money for the expense of traveling to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap from outlying villages. Young Cambodian doctors and nurses who work here speak of Richner with awe, comparing his importance to the nation to that of the king and weeping on camera as they say things like “No Cambodian is like him … we should be ashamed a foreigner cares so much for our children.”
Richner is also a cello-playing clown. Decades-old footage captures him performing on Zurich streets as “Beatocello,” a troubadour telling stories about “Dong and Deng,” an impoverished brother and sister living under the Khmer Rouge. Having worked with malnourished Cambodian infants during that dark period, Richner was inspired to use music to fund his work. He continues that today, in addition to giving what appear to be recitals for patients and their families.
Gachot spends plenty of time following the doctor’s rounds through his hospitals, observing some of his public-relations efforts, and speaking with the seemingly endless community of mothers whose families would not be alive without him. But he has no interest in telling us how Richner came to this work, who he was before he became Beatocello, or what his personal life is like. A couple of scenes near the end suggest he simply doesn’t have a personal life — that the childless bachelor lives only for his work. That may well be true, but the film does little to bring us into this praiseworthy man’s head.
Production Company: Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen
Director-Producer: Georges Gachot
Director of photography: Pio Corradi
Music: Beatocello, Bach, Vivaldi, Bruch
Editor: Anja Bombelli
No rating, 81 minutes
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