Review: Veterinary surgeon Maaike (2019)


Director: Tijs Tinbergen | 98 minutes | documentary

In this documentary, the Gouden Kalf winners Jan Musch and Tijs Tinbergen (“Rotvos”, “MeesTV”) follow the young, enthusiastic veterinarian Maaike van den Berg who is associated with the group practice Van Stad tot Wad. In Maaike’s wake we race across the flat Groningen countryside, from dairy farmer to dairy farmer.

What is immediately noticeable is that the duo Musch and Tinbergen in “Veearts Maaike” have put a lot of effort into portraying the versatility of a life as a veterinarian. Because the filmmakers have taken ample time (three years) to follow veterinarian Maaike van den Berg, as a viewer you experience the dynamic interaction between veterinarian and farmer up close. Difficult deliveries in cows, performing caesarean sections, stillborn calves or reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock farming, it all comes up. In particular, an observational approach is chosen that occasionally gives you the feeling that you are riding with the vet in the back seat.

It also helps that the main character is a grateful focal point for the documentary: Maaike is cameragenic, thorough, eloquent and cares about the animals she takes care of. This gives difficult moments, such as a scene in which the inevitable decision has to be made to put an animal to sleep, extra expressive power.
She is also interested in policy, which is mainly reflected in the fight against excessive antibiotic use. People can also count on a warm interest from Maaike: during visits Van den Berg spontaneously inquires about women, children and renovation plans of the farmers concerned. In addition, she guides livestock farmers in the jungle to rules that a farm in the modern Netherlands is bound by.

At the same time, “Veearts Maaike” remains a bit vague when it comes to juggling agricultural terms. Exactly what is the situation with matters such as the resistance of pathogens to antibiotics, milk quotas and prices, phosphate rights or more environmentally friendly stables is only marginally explained or explained. In addition, the environmental and ethical questions surrounding industrial livestock farming are barely touched upon. The emphasis is mainly on farmers who suffer from constantly changing rules and the various interests that play a role in modern livestock farming.

“Veearts Maaike” is a neutral documentary that alternately brings a smile and a tear to your face. Because the film tries to be a jack of all trades in terms of content, “Veearts Maaike” is sometimes a bit on the superficial side. Maaike’s personal and professional background, the struggles facing the modern (dairy) livestock sector or the balance between commerce and animal welfare; it is all touched upon, but rarely explored. As a result, the documentary unfortunately does not fully live up to its abundant potential.