Next to the horrific Hiroshima and Nagasaki atom bombs, when we think of nuclear disasters what comes to mind are the tragic incidents in Fukushima (Japan) and Chernobyl (in erstwhile USSR). Other than reading in the news about these, I knew very little about the human tragedies involved in these world-changing events. A few years ago, when I saw the film “The Seal of the Sun (2016)” it was unbelievable to see that the disciplined Japanese could’ve been so irresponsible in leading to the Fukushima meltdown and did very little to contain the damage. This led me interested in learning about the Chernobyl incident, so when I saw the listing for Chernobyl 1986 (2021) on Netflix, I immediately watched it [I am yet to watch the acclaimed HBO miniseries of the same name].
Chernobyl 1986 by Russian Director Danila Kozlovsky, who also has played the lead role, tells the incidents that happen over the few days before and after the explosion from the viewpoint of a local firefighter Alexey. Alexey meets his long lost girlfriend Olga, played nicely by the beautiful Oksana Akinshina, from whom he learns he is the father to her 10-year old Alexey and tries his best to get back with her. When things were getting good for the couple to get reunited, the explosion happens which changes everyone lives in the city of Pripyat.
Though the film covers in detail the heroic actions of Alexey who gets recruited by the top-level team of the USSR to save the nuclear plant from further disaster, it was not a documentary. It manages to keep coming back to the lives of Alexey(s) and Olga – I liked the style but it may not work for everyone who may want to see more factual coverage – seeing visuals of firemen who get exposed to ridiculous amounts of radiation getting literally toasted & burned and vomiting uncontrollably felt disturbing for me, but that’s the only way to communicate the human pain & sufferings that happened in Chernobyl.
In India in the 1980s when I was in school I had come across a good amount of Soviet Propaganda, as a result, I have an unexplainable fascination for seeing the orderliness and cleanliness of cities in the communist European countries of that era like in Good Bye Lenin (2003) or I walked Around Moscow (1964). Chernobyl 1986 does a good job of recreating on screen the community, the clean wide roads, costumes and the highrise apartments of a typical soviet industrial city we are familiar with.
The film was a bit longer than it should’ve been. Like the scene where the young Alexey with a camera on hand filming the Nuclear Power Plant just as it explodes felt cliche but those are acceptable for fiction.