Monday, August 01, 2011

MIFF ’11: Leonid’s Story (short)

Most of the perils of living in a police state are oppressively obvious. However, there are hidden dangers to the rigid control of information. Just ask the citizens of the former Ukrainian city Prypiat, if you can find one. Russians Leonid and Ludmilla Korzh were two such survivors, whose average-turned-remarkable lives are the subject of Rainer Ludwig’s animated-documentary hybrid short film Leonid’s Story, which screened at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival and is currently streaming free of charge at Mubi.

Leonid Korzh is truly fortunate to be alive. Not just a resident of Prypiat, he was also a so-called “liquidator,” one of the first responders charged with implementing the evacuation—once it was finally ordered. Indeed, it took a while, with no official warning from the Soviet authorities to at least stay inside. Of course, as a police officer, one of his most pressing assignments was to secure his station’s arms. All the while, he had a pregnant wife at home to worry about.

Chernobyl remains a gaping sore the Soviets conveniently abandoned in Ukraine’s lap. According to the film, only 300 of the eleven hundred-some villagers of nearby Kopachi survived. Those are bad odds. Clearly, it was not just the radiation, but also the Communists’ spin and denial that contributed to the staggering death toll.

Writer-director Ludwigs, in close collaboration with producer Tetyana Chernyavska, has crafted an artful fusion of animation, archival photographs, and contemporary documentary footage. It definitely evokes a sense of the bad old Soviet days, when assignment to a nuclear power plant’s bedroom community was considered a plum assignment in contrast to the Siberian backwater Korzh had previously been stationed in. Yet, it also captures the personal drama of a family in a time of crisis. Needless to say, it does not paint a particularly flattering picture of the Soviet government’s response then, nor of the Russian regime’s treatment of its permanently ailing liquidators today. Hardly shocking, but it is a fact worth underscoring nonetheless.

Somehow though, Leonid’s Story is not unremittingly bleak, thanks in large measure to Rainer’s stylish animation. Somewhat timely, it also proves how forthcoming and responsible Japan was in comparison when faced with its own nuclear crisis. At nineteen minutes, it is quite a substantial short. A topical work of artistic merit, Leonid’s Story is highly recommended both on Mubi and as it continues to play the festival circuit.