Prior to its didactic, unnecessary coda, this creepy period drama is one of the strongest films director Krzysztof Zanussi has made since the 1980s. Set in the years before World War I, it follows an amoral Polish doctor obsessed with experimenting with anesthetics, no matter the human cost. After a stint in prison, he goes to work for the Austro-Hungarian military, where openly corrupt officers allow him to conduct whatever twisted studies he wants. Zanussi has been all too quick to condemn his characters’ moral failings in much of his later work (such as And a Warm Heart and Foreign Body), but here he employs a coldly inquisitive style that hearkens back to his best, most open-ended films (The Illumination, The Constant Factor). Shooting many of the scenes in mobile single takes, Zanussi generates an unsettling sense of moral ambiguity and a clinical fascination with his antihero’s behavior. Unfortunately Zanussi dashes those qualities in the last ten minutes, preventing this film from truly getting under one’s skin. In Polish with subtitles.