December 8, 2021

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[Review] Chernobyl: Sad Atoms

Released without warning, the mini-series Chernobyl has managed to grab the attention of viewers week after week, by maddening the counters of sites like Imdb or Metacritic. Focus on nuclear success.

The film industry treats history arbitrarily, and sometimes opportunistically. While HBO has just completed its great work with the final of Game of Thrones , the studio gives us a short story, quite in tune with the times. At a time when millions of human beings are beginning to worry about the fate of the planet, C hernobyl plunges us back into one of the worst ecological disasters ever to occur.

We would have liked never to say it, but she deserved it. The nuclear accident of April 26, 1986 is certainly known to all, imprinted in our memories as a school date, but its ins and outs remain opaque for a majority of people. A lack of knowledge closely linked to a political will to mitigate the seriousness of the event, but also to a lack of tools for understanding on the part of the general public. Aware of the complexity of the original material, Craig Mazin and Johan Renck dilute their story over five episodes of approximately one hour.

The story is not linear, and operates leaps in time although the climax remains the exact moment of the incident. The process is mastered and the fate of each protagonist remains legible. The director relied on numerous reports and archive images that he sometimes reproduced identically.

This documentation, well known to those who have been interested in the question, comes to life here before our eyes. Complex subject requires, we do not escape phases of popularized explanations, but precise of the operation of the plant. But the latter are rather brief, and frankly clear, like this topo made in emergency in a military helicopter which reminds us that we are about to fly over death.

This didacticism is never redundant and allows, until the last episode, to dissect how the incompetence of the men and the weakness of the technique brought us to the edge of the abyss. The observation violently charges a Soviet empire at the end of its life but swollen with pride, curled up in a lie that could have had even greater consequences without the action of the proletariat it was supposed to defend.

The mere mention of the disaster did not ensure to keep the spectators in suspense. In this sense, nuclear power has always represented a real cinematographic challenge. Unless it shows irradiated creatures, for the most part fantasized, the image alone has great difficulty in transcribing the danger inherent in the power of the atom.

To give substance to this invisible monster, Johan Renck develops a sober and clever staging, which involves sound. Certainly faces ooze and cough and the sight of a molten heart looks like hell. But like in a horror movie, the threat gets on before it’s seen. The shrill cry of a racing detector is enough to remind us that a piece of graphite can kill ten young men in a few hours. The deliberately washed out image reinforces the impression that the radiation removes all color, all flavor, from what it touches.

The seriousness of the tone is well maintained by the cast, particularly well directed. Special mention to Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgard, who deliver a feverish performance on a subject strewn with pitfalls.

In spite of everything, we can’t help regretting the use of English, and that almost bourgeois accent that really stands out in such an inspired decor. This is also one of the only shortcomings of the series, although we imagine that some will not cling to its historical austerity (its strength in truth). C hernobyl pays sincere homage to thousands of forgotten heroes, a term that is widely used today. Respecting the specificities, and the sadness mixed with joy of the Slavic language, would have added a little more force to this powerful plea.