April 25th, 1986, Pripyat was known as a model “Atomic City.” Two days later, it was well on its way to
being a radioactive ghost town. The resulting
physical and emotional damage done to the local Ukrainian populace is starkly
dramatized in Michale Boganim’s Land of
screens during the 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival.
rained on that fateful April 26th, fixing the radiation in the area
surrounding the nuclear power plant.
That was bad news for Pripyat, the bustling Ukrainian town built accommodate
Chernobyl workers, but good for the rest of the world.
a bad situation worse, many Ukrainians would needlessly perish because of the
Soviets’ reluctance to admit the severity of the crisis. One of them will be Anya’s new husband Pyotr,
a fireman pulled away from their wedding reception for lethal duty at
Chernobyl. The disaster will also rob
young Valery of his father Alexei, a safety engineer expressly forbidden from
warning Pripyat residents of the deadly reality he understood only too
well. In contradiction of Soviet policy,
he sends Valery and his mother away on the first train out of town. Faced with the guilt and futility of the
situation, Alexei rooms the streets of Pripyat, handing out umbrellas as
certain death rains from the sky.
years later, Anya has not moved on with her life. She works as a guide, taking curious French tourists
and grieving survivors on tours of the no man’s land that was once her
home. One of her groups includes Alexei’s
widow and Valery, who has become an angry teenager greatly desiring some
on-location in the forbidden zone, Oblivion
looks downright spooky. It clearly
suggests the upcoming Oren Peli produced Chernobyl horror movie should be scary
as all get-out, even they do an only halfway decent job of it. Frankly, watching Anya lead her busloads of
gawkers is rather jarring. Obviously,
this job is profoundly unhealthy for her, but she remains psychologically
tethered to the ghost town.
Oblivion abstains from graphic
depictions of the radiation sickness, it presents an unambiguous indictment of
the Soviet authorities’ rampant CYA-ing and callous indifference to Ukrainian
suffering. Like the character of Anya,
it somewhat loses its way during the early scenes of the 1996 winter story arc,
but when Boganim starts following the wayward Valery through Pripyat’s desolate
streets and abandoned buildings, the film achieves an air of surreal high tragedy.
understated, former Bond-girl Olga Kurylenko’s work as Anya, in her native
Ukrainian, is remarkably assured and shrewdly modulated. As Alexei, Polish actor Andrzej Chyra is also
quite restrained, yet touching.
In her first dramatic feature, Israeli-born
French documentarian Boganim balances the intimate and the ominous fairly dexterously. Oblivion
also boasts a distinctive soundtrack from Polish jazz musician Leszek Możdżer. Refraining from his experimentations with “treated”
pianos, his themes are surprisingly upbeat and swinging, but they help propel
the audience through much of the on-screen grimness. Often visually arresting, Land of Oblivion is a well produced
film, definitely recommended, particularly for those fascinated by the
Chernobyl disaster and the Soviet era in general, when it screens again this
Friday (4/27) and Sunday (4/29) during this year’s San Francisco International
Labels: Chernobyl, Leszek Mozdzer, Olga Kurylenko, SFIFF '12, Ukraine