TDir. Motohashi Seiichi
he village of Budische, Belarus, doesn’t immediately appear to be unique. It, like so many other villages in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Belarus, was shaken out of its rural calm on April 26, 1986, when the world’s worst nuclear disaster, the Chernobyl meltdown, threatened to poison the region and force its inhabitants to flee.
The Soviet government did ask the people of Budische to leave, and many of its 600 or so residents did, but some stayed. Those who chose to remain behind were mainly the elderly – the notable exception being Alexei, the film’s narrator.
As a documentary, this is an interesting look at the collision between the modern world and the simpler, more rudimentary lives of some rural villages. As an artistic work, it is really quite beautiful – never rushing past an opportunity to dwell briefly on a sunset landscape, or watching someone taking their time to do all the little things that urban life seems to shove aside as insignificant.
There is a heartbreaking quality about Alexei, a genuinely sweet and gentle man whose mental disabilities, which the film understates and even avoids at times, have made him a somewhat willing prisoner but also a saint to the elderly villagers to whom he is a farmhand, handyman and friend.
The overall pensive quality and luxuriant pace are aided by a brilliant soundtrack by Ryuichi Sakamoto.
The spring at Budische was never contaminated, and it provides the source of life for the villagers. Alexei also seems untainted by the world, and it makes his story a sad, beautiful and ultimately compelling one.