Friday, September 23, 2011


I think I like the original French title for this film, Terre Outragée, a little better than the English Land of Oblivion. For film that examines in a very specific and  haunting way the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, a phrase that appears (to this non-Francophone) to translate as "the insulted" or even "the assaulted" land just better suits.

This film, director Michelle Boganim's first non-documentary, hit me where I live, despite how its narrative kind of falls apart toward the end (to be frank, I didn't notice how much was left dangling until I discussed it later with my best film buddy, who has a sharper eye for that sort of thing and into whom this film did not get its emotional hooks as deep). It begins by presenting a rapturous rural Ukrainian idyll, all rowboats on the river and kids at play on a lushly wooded riverbank; we learn the pair in the rowboat are soon to be married and they are happily in love. Knowing this film does concern Chernobyl, the viewer can't help but know this is not going to end well, but everything is so beautifully presented and photographed that happy sighs escape as the scenes are taken in -- even when rain interrupts the wedding party and drives everyone under cover.

Queue dead fish floating belly up in the river. Dying, blackened trees. And power plant employees, including the bridegroom, being summoned to work under mysterious circumstances.

Boganim wisely doesn't dwell on any attempt to re-enact the tragedy itself; all of this is just prologue. The main events take place 25 years later, when stubborn, homesick former residents of the village of Pripyat (just eight miles from the reactors) start finding various excuses to return home despite official warnings not to. Noplace else is home; nowhere else feels right; cancer and radiation sickness and ruined, moldy houses with mutant birch trees growing through them be damned.

I could relate. I have a similar attachment to the valley where I grew up, a valley that lives under threat of destruction, not from a nuclear accident but from forest fire (look up any article you wish about the Medicine Bow National Forest and its lost battle with the Mountain Pine Beetle). It has its hooks in me gut-deep and I can never tear myself away, and you bet even if it did somehow, someday, become an irradiated hellhole, I would still sneak back to be there if even one tree was standing, one pool of water still reflecting the sky.

Yeah, this film made me cry. Well done, Ms. Boganim. Well done.

Once again, I have embedded the AudioBoo I recorded with Paul Laroquod the day we saw the film, just for completeness' sake.

The Land of Oblivion (mp3)

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