Through a voiceover, Valentina Timofeievna (Dinara Drukarova) talks about a friend whom she knows from when both their husbands are still alive. Both lost their husbands to the Chernobyl disaster. That friend is marrying again, an event she has to attend. Pol Cruchten’s docufiction film Voices From Chernobyl shows her in her bedroom getting read for the event, choosing a black dress, signaling her reluctance to move on from the man she loves and lost. A man who slowly turned into a monster in front of her. The film isn’t just about her story though, as it also gives voices to journalists (Jean-Philippe Beche) and even to animals that the disaster affected.
The film uses words and narration as its backbone. Cruchten uses artistic imagery that yes, isn’t unique, but it’s still emotionally effective. Even the editing seems like scenes bleed into each other, reminding its viewers that a person’s story has a connection to the places where those stories come from. In adapting Svetlana Alexeievtich’s novel, some of the images he uses show individuals in private of walking spaces alone. He actually uses Chernobyl and the surrounding villages as locations where individuals haunt instead of inhabit. The voiceover reinforce the feeling of how the impossible happened and how it affected people’s lives.
Cruchten is probably not the first person to conflate past and present in a film. Voiceovers talk about a chaotic past while his images capture an empty present. His film is full of bittersweet contradictions. He and Polish cinematographer Jerzy Palacz saturate the colours of their images. The greens here are vibrant, a colour reminiscent of both the life and the disease intertwining themselves in this unlikeliest place. It lets viewers contemplate what any place may look like without humans. We accept the temporary nature of life and fear the suddenness in which disaster may strike the homes we cherish.
The Chernobyl disaster serves as a subject to many narrative visual medium. Voices‘s artsy approach may not be for everyone. ‘Contemplative’ and ‘meditative’, after all, are synonyms for other words in the minds of viewers who dislike experimentation. Lets be fair to the film though. It still knows when to incorporate conventional narrative back in the mix with the way it reintroduces Timofeievna’s story. Drukrova’s presence is still in tandem with Cruchten’s artsy-ness but she and the film brings the emotional weight of one man’s death. Lastly, Cruchten uses French as the voiceover’s language. This choice, surprisingly,speaks to the universality of the pain of the people we hear on screen.
Watch Voices from Chernobyl on OVID.