A meltdown of more than Chernobyl


By Tracy Sorenson

Directed by Mikhail Belikov
Showing at the second festival of new cinema from the Soviet Union
At the Academy Twin and Walker cinemas, Sydney
Until August 29
Reviewed by Tracy Sorensen

"Raspad" translates as "decay", "collapse", "disintegration". In Belikov's film, the story of the chaos unleashed by the nuclear reactor meltdown at Chernobyl in 1986 is woven with the story of moral and political decay in Soviet society.

There are few points of relief in this film of screaming Geiger counters, blistered skin, children's hair falling out, women lined up for mass abortions, mass hysteria as people forget their humanity completely and trample over each other for a place in the evacuation planes. Bureaucrats get their own children out first and tell the press that nothing important has happened.

As the camera draws back for the larger view — there are a lot of bird's eye scenes of thousands of yellow evacuation buses rolling to the horizon — you remember similar images: columns of refugees in the aftermath of the second world war; the wreckage of Hiroshima; starvation in Africa; floods in Bangladesh. You start to get fed up with the 20th century.

But the film is still accessible and absorbing: large-scale disaster is counterpointed by the intimate details of a single family caught up in its own web of evasion and hypocrisy. Again, familiarity: lies told ostensibly to make people feel better, which actually allow individuals to escape responsibility for their own actions. People quietly, normally, living out moral erosion.

It is this counterpoint which makes Raspad more than just a gruesome warning of the horror of nuclear devastation.

Another "depressing Soviet film"? Yes. Watch it if you want to look the late 20th century — and yourself — in the eye.