ZVIZDAL is the latest documentary-installation by the Dutch company Berlin.  It comprises a large double-sided projection screen over three diorama tables depicting a primitive Ukranian farmhouse.  The documentary film is interspersed with magnified footage from remote controlled cameras which move to display images of these farm dioramas on the projection screen.  The documentary itself uses a fairly orthodox approach with simple footage without much in the way of narration or description by the filmmakers.

Photo: Julie Mullins

The subject of this film is the lone Ukranian farm populated by an elderly couple who stubbornly chose to remain after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident dangerously irradiated the surrounding area.  Though the government required evacuation of the zone around the power plant, Petro and Nadia were able to stay on their rural farm.

Photo: Julie Mullins

Over a period of five years, Berlin filmed the couple in this exclusion zone as they lived a life with medieval level of technology (largely without electricity, though the Ukranian government gave them power during these five years).  Isolation, aging, relationships and death are all seen intensely through this small household.

Each is supremely dependent upon nature and upon each other to supply food, medicine and sanity. Their lives of poverty seem self-imposed, who, as relatives or friends venture by in the summers extend ignored offers of assistance.  When asked why they choose this isolated existence, the pair respond “this is how it is”, “what makes you think the grass is greener somewhere else?”.

Photo: Julie Mullins

The deaths of ancient and starving farm animals seem to foreshadow the future for Nadia and Petro, but their stoicism allows them no acknowledgement of it.  ZVIZDAL ultimately offers little in the way of any thesis and instead stands as a true document of the life lived out in that small corner of the world.  The portrait of Nadia and Petro offers few universal truths or comforting conclusions aside from the necessary carrying on of life.


[Chernobyl – so far so close]


January 19 2019

Contemporary Arts Center

44 E 6th St Cincinnati Ohio

–Will Newman

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