Film Critic: Chornobyl movie with Bond babe in Kyiv theaters

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April 26, 2012, 10:33 p.m. | Movies — by Yuliya Popova

Olga Kurylenko, a Ukrainian actress who played in the James Bond movie “Quantum of Solace,” stars in “The Land of Oblivion,” parts of which were filmed near Chornobyl.
© (Courtesy)

The French movie “The Land of Oblivion” opened in Kyiv theaters on April 26, the date that marked the 26th anniversary of the worst nuclear explosion in history.

Reflecting on the legacy of Chornobyl, it has made a successful festival circuit around the world, but in Ukraine the movie may struggle to connect with the actual victims of the tragedy.

French-Israeli director Michale Boganim shot the film about a woman coming to terms with losing her husband to radiation on their wedding day. Aptly captured feelings of pain, anger and inability to move on seem to have a universal appeal, but it is the details that will estrange the audience wearing Ukrainian glasses.

From the beginning, things go awry. Women are washing clothes in the Pripyat River despite the fact that it is 1986 and the washing machine has already been invented. Vodka is better established than some of the characters in the first 30 minutes, with people, including a bride, taking solace in it before the plant deals a nuclear blow. And the subject of a foreign husband for a pretty, yet destitute Ukrainian woman is offered as one of the solutions to a new life.

The film “skirted along the edges of stereotypes,” said Rachel Rosen, the director of programming at San Francisco International Film Festival. “The Land of Oblivion” will be competing against 10 other works for New Director’s Prize during the festival’s run at the end of April. “But I am fairly forgiving; it is not a major factor for me. The director’s sense of humanity and a gift of visual storytelling are far more important.”

Shot by a documentarian, the film has been traversing the festival screens for more than a year now. When it first aired in Ukraine a year ago, however, it did not receive a warm welcome from critics, nor won any festival awards. The head of international jury of Molodist Film Festival and Ukraine’s arguably most prolific writer Oksana Zabuzhko said the film was “bad and completely false.”

Audiences outside Ukraine, however, seem to think otherwise. “’The Land of Oblivion’ left me with a burning feeling of hatred to the Soviet regime, which I left behind having immigrated nine years before their obnoxious crime in 1986,” said Edward Dayen, the publisher of a Russian language newspaper in San Francisco.

The Land of Oblivion’ left me with a burning feeling of hatred to the Soviet regime, which I left behind having immigrated nine years before their obnoxious crime in 1986.

- Edward Dayen, the publisher of a Russian language newspaper in San Francisco

For him, Boganim’s film proved a fitting stab at Soviet authorities, some of whom still hold power in modern Ukraine.

James Bond’s Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko from “Quantum of Solace” adds a celebrity momentum to it.

Wearing a floating summer dress, she struggles to act like a devastated bride whose husband is whisked away to put out a forest fire on their wedding, which happens to be the same day as the explosion.

But towards the end of the first hour, she slips comfortably into a part of a tormented woman who cannot find her peace.

Landing a job as a tour agent in the Chornobyl zone, she seems to be more alive visiting her past with a radiation dosimeter in hand.

These scenes have been shot on location in Chornobyl in summer and winter of 2010, bestowing a documentary-like presence to the film.

“I am always interested in people who blend fiction and non-fiction together,” said Rosen from the San Francisco Film Society. She had to watch several thousands of shorts and features for this festival’s final program of 174 films, of which new directors made several hundred. “I think the director [Boganim] stroke the right balance between truth and a certain narrative liberty. It is clearly a product of vision.”

While it is hard to argue with the stunning photography, the film’s sound leaves much to be desired. The Ukrainian, Russian and French languages spoken in the narrative lends an international scope of tragedy, but it is the quality of Ukrainian that irks. Clearly spoken by people whose first language is Russian, it comes through as badly rehearsed and unnatural.

The work’s timing is more than striking. As Japan marks the one-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands and set off a radiation crisis, “The Land of Oblivion” lends sympathy and understanding to the people affected by a similar crisis thousands of miles away.

The film will screen in Kyiv from April 26

Blockbuster Multiplex
34-V Moskovsky Ave.
Hr 25-90

1-B Obolonsky Ave.
Hr 45-60

Yuliya Popova, the Kyiv Post’s former lifestyle editor, lives in San Francisco.

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