Voices from Chernobyl: Poetry in horror
by Jean-Pierre Thilges
- Luxembourgish director Pol Cruchten examines the after-effects of the Chernobyl disaster with some bright sequences in his documentary, presented at the Luxembourg City Film Festival
Do the horrors of the Chernobyl disaster have to be shown using shocking imagery? Or, rather, should we talk about the most terrifying after-effects of nuclear catastrophes using clear and bright sequences that only augment the haunting words of their victims? Luxembourgish filmmaker Pol Cruchten opted for the second route when turning the words of Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, into his documentary film Voices from Chernobyl [+see also:
The book and the film, the latter of which was presented as part of the sixth Luxembourg City Film Festival (25 February-6 March), give scientists, teachers, journalists, couples and children a chance to speak about their daily lives, which were devastated by the most unlikely of disasters. Rather than presenting the pleas of these men, women and children through "talking heads", Alexievich and Cruchten take the audience on an unlikely spiritual and poetic journey through this horror. Some will be shocked, no doubt, by the juxtaposition between these softly spoken, angerless words – which reflect on the atrocities suffered by the victims of this accident – and the images of refined aestheticism, for which the director says he drew inspiration from the works of Andrei Tarkovsky.
Jerzy Palacz, the Polish cinematographer who is used to working with Cruchten on his projects, was the one who shot the previously unseen sequences in Ukraine, filming the places where the events of 26 April 1986 made time stand still. Post-apocalyptic industrial landscapes and nature – which is beginning to reassert itself now, 30 years after the disaster – meld here in a maelstrom of images, the dazzling beauty of which is electrifying.
(Translated from French)