PARIS (AFP) ― The film had to be shot in Chernobyl. That was the sizeable challenge Michale Boganim set herself for her first feature film, the story of a young bride robbed of a husband by the 1986 nuclear disaster.
Five years in the making, the French-Israeli director’s “Land of Oblivion,” just released in France, was shot entirely in the so-called exclusion zone, reaching 30 kilometers around the defunct Ukrainian nuclear power plant.
Starring “Bond girl” Olga Kurylenko in the lead role, the film opens with a joyous wedding party, on April 26, 1986, cut short when the groom is called to attend to a fire at the nearby power plant ― from which he will not return.
Boganim’s film is set in Pripiat, a ghost town just three kilometres from the plant, whose 50,000 inhabitants were evacuated at a moment’s notice, leaving only the poisoned vegetation behind.
“It is a town frozen on the day of the disaster,” Boganim told AFP. “Time hangs between past and present, with the libraries and school classrooms exactly as they were.”
Shooting on site was an absolute necessity, said the director, who wanted to show the human cost of the disaster, and how it was ignored by the authorities, who ordered the evacuation without a word of explanation.
The shoot itself “was a bit of rollercoaster,” admits Boganim, saying she had to tweak the script to win a green light to film inside the zone ― first in midsummer for the “before” sequence, and in the winter snow for the rest.
The movie is split into two parts, one sequence building up to the disaster, and a second, set a decade later.
In the latter half, the widowed Anya cannot bring herself to leave her hometown, taking work as a guide in the “zone” two weeks per month, the maximum time people are allowed to spend in the still-contaminated area.
In parallel, we follow the story of Alexei, an engineer seen planting an appletree with his young son Valery on the fateful day of April 26, 1986.
Forced to lie about the gravity of the accident, Alexei chooses to disappear.
His son refuses to accept his father’s death, returning to the zone after the disaster to scrawl messages for him on his old bedroom walls.