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FNE at Berlinale 2011: Competition Innocent Saturday

2011-02-15

BERLIN: Escape from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster seems like an obvious topic for a fast moving action film with tension mounting as the clock ticks off the minutes. Russian director Alexander Mindadze in his second feature has given us a nail biting beginning as Valery Kabysh played by Anton Shagin arrives at Chernobyl just as the reactor blows up.

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Based on the true story of Kabysh's failed attempt to escape he makes his getaway from the radiation contaminated nuclear plant and heads into town to pick up his girlfriend Vera played by Svetlana Smirnova-Marcinkevich and flee the disaster area. Panicked Valery and Vera flee for the train station and look ready to escape the nuclear horror that is unfolding. But at the critical moment Vera breaks the heel on her shoe and they decide to buy new shoes.

The first part of the film is filled with the tension and drama of the nuclear meltdown. But just when Mindadze has established his dramatic credentials the film turns into something else. Vera and Valery get side-tracked once again at a wedding celebration of their friends and Vera ends up singing at the wedding. While the invisible disaster is ever-present, people seem to be prisoners of their daily existence. They ignore the looming catastrophe as they continue to party. As long as the sun is shining why not carry on as if everything is OK?

Mindadze obviously wanted to show us how we can get side-tracked from the major dramas of our life by the everyday. One wonders if this is really a film about Chernobyl at all or if this is about global warming and other catastrophes that hover over the human race while we party on as if nothing was wrong. The contract between the tense countdown to disaster and the lack of response is palpable.

Speaking at the press conference Mindadze said: "This is about Chernobyl, but it is also about how life was still flourishing in the time of imminent danger."

The German producer of the film said that he felt that the story of Chernobyl had to be told by someone living in the Ukraine, Belarus or Russia at the time.

Alexander Rodnyansky one of the film's producers said the he had been a documentary maker in 1986 when the disaster occurred and he was in Chernobyl on the fifth day after the disaster occurred. "I had seen many scripts about Chernobyl but it was only when I saw this one that I was interested to make this film. Hundreds of thousands of people died not only on that day but for years after. This was also one of the reasons for the breakup of the Soviet Union. The silence. The cover-up. Today with the internet I don't think you could keep such an event silent. "

Mindadze said that the film was not just about Chernobyl but about the limitations of life and how sometimes you just cannot run away.

Romanian cinematographer Oleg Mutu, who shot 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days added a strong tension to the film with handheld camera shots and dramatic close ups.

Director and Script: Alexander Mindadze

Production: Non-Stop Production (Russia), Bavaira Picture (Germany) Passenger Film, Sota Cinema Group (Ukraine) in association with Arte, MDR

Cast: Anton Shagin, Svetlana Smirnova-Marcinkevich, Stanislav Rjadinskij, Vasilij Guzov, Aleksej Demidov, Vjacheslav Petkun, Sergej Gromov

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