Pripyat

"Excellent"

Pripyat Review


The word Chernobyl has become a metaphor not only for the horror of uncontrolled nuclear power but also for the secrecy and deception of a collapsing Soviet system, with its disregard for the safety and welfare of its workers and their families. When the reactor exploded on April 26, 1986, the explosion instantly killed 30 people. More than 15,000 died in the emergency cleanup afterwards. But the real scale of the catastrophe, which displaced hundreds of thousands of people and converted villages into ghost towns, turned out to be far greater.

Today, progressive scientists say the effects of that radiation are more serious than ever predicted. However, 15 years later, uncertainty still hangs over the planned closure of the nuclear plant this year, despite warnings that it is a time bomb. Of its four Soviet-built reactors, only number three is still in operation.

For the people who still live in Pripyat, a small town situated next to Chernobyl, it is both a contamination zone (or a "Zone of Alienation," its official title) and a place where they lived, dreamt, created families, and raised kids. Prior to 1986, the population of Pripyat was roughly 48,000. In 1999, 13 years after the nuclear explosion, the Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyhalter examines a human face of this "Alienation Zone" -- the lives of people who returned to town after the disaster and those who are still waiting to be relocated.

The mood of the remaining elders is grim, but nobody seems to be particularly shocked. Although some of them, in the course of several interviews, clearly understand the initial Soviet cover-up in acknowledging the tragedy, the majority don't exhibit much knowledge and choose simply to submit to fate. One elderly couple shares their family story -- how they left, got homesick, and returned to Pripyat, where they live in nearly primitive conditions. Having nobody to share their lives with, their days are spent by gathering mushrooms, cooking, and doing housework. "The barbwire doesn't stop the radiation, so why be scared?" they wonder.

Pripyat used to be a lively little town, both a powerful nuclear center and a conveniently planned city with schools and urban apartments. It is now a dead, lifeless stretch of land littered with scraps of the past: Decaying buildings, gnarled benches of the former sport stadium, glaring empty spaces. A solitary lab scientist is the only one in the film who, when discussing the aftermath of nuclear tragedy, openly deplores the system for taking measures without also taking social responsibility and assuring safety.

Other official workers -- the chief operator of the plant's switchboard, a parking lot foreman, and the checkpoint militiamen -- all appear to be re-playing half-scared, half-informed pieces of information. Technically, the filmmaker's agenda remains objective, if not anonymous: No voice over or narrator acts as mediator, except when questions are asked, and no editing juxtapositions are presented.

The film eloquently differentiates the official version of nuclear tragedy and the meaning of the tragedy for Pripyat inhabitants. There is an accidental play on words, a trick I take as a metaphor for the film's meaning. One of the interviewees is asked if it makes sense to guard a huge parking lot containing radioactively contaminated vehicles. Perhaps those who surround Pripyat, calling for a "theoretical renewal of Chernobyl's earth" would know the answer? Pripyat is a documentary about a place that officially has ceased to exist. It does, however, exist as a living proof of a never-changing corruption of the Soviet regime, a corrupt legacy which, despite the fall of USSR, remains omnipresent in this carefully crafted and deliberately slow-paced documentary.

Running as part of the 2001 Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

The war room.



Pripyat

Facts and Figures

Run time: 100 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 3rd July 1999

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

IMDB: 7.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Nikolaus Geyhalter

Producer: Nikolaus Geyhalter

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Jackie Movie Review

Jackie Movie Review

Rather than make a standard biopic about the most famous First Lady in American history,...

Split Movie Review

Split Movie Review

After a few badly received sci-fi blockbusters, M. Night Shyamalan returned to his earthier style...

xXx: Return of Xander Cage Movie Review

xXx: Return of Xander Cage Movie Review

It's been 15 years since Vin Diesel walked away from his XXX role, killing off...

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

This may not be the cheeriest movie of the season, but it's so skilfully written,...

Live By Night Movie Review

Live By Night Movie Review

Ben Affleck launched his directing career 10 years ago with his film of Dennis Lehane's...

La La Land Movie Review

La La Land Movie Review

After storming awards season with Whiplash two years ago, writer-director Damien Chazelle returns with something...

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Hopes were high that this film might finally crack the curse of movies based on...

Advertisement
Silence Movie Review

Silence Movie Review

Faith is a topic Martin Scorsese can't quite shake, courting controversy with complex films like...

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A difficult movie to market, this isn't actually the BFG-style fantasy adventure it looks like....

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Word has it that a 4-year-old came up with the idea for this unapologetically silly...

Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Dramas exploring the nature of death and the true meaning of life are always in...

Paterson Movie Review

Paterson Movie Review

Unpredictable filmmaker Jim Jarmusch ricochets from his artful vampire movie Only Lovers Left Alive into...

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

At 80 years old, British filmmaker Ken Loach won his second Cannes Film Festival with...

Why Him? Movie Review

Why Him? Movie Review

Writer-director John Hamburg continues to recycle the formula that made his first hit Meet the...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.