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Slamdance 2020 Review: "1986" (2019) ★★


Watching indie cinema is rewarding as the concepts they touch upon on most occasions are ones that big studios don’t even want to deal with. It’s not always about controversial subject matters they don’t want to talk about but rather a marketing decision whether it’s something they can sell to the audience and how wide that can be. Before I started watching “1986”, I was curious to know about it as it has something appealing that the former Soviet Union countries know better how to deliver. However, by the time when it was over, I could not figure out what exactly the filmmaker tried to convey through the silver screen.

Elena (Daria Mureeva) lives in Minsk, Belarus. Her father got arrested and is expected to be jailed for another ten years. Her tumultuous relationship with her boyfriend, Victor (Evgeni Sangadzhiev), is filled with tension and distrust. Using photography as her hobby and eventually hoping to turn it into a big thing, the young woman decides to deal with her father’s matter first as she agrees to take over his illegal business by carrying contraband across the border through the forbidden zone of Chernobyl.

As the film suggests that the woman is fascinated by the contaminated beauty of the blocked area of Chernobyl, we mainly find her having a contaminated life as her inner world is no better. However, it does not seem that she is so fascinated by what she sees around her, but rather tries to collect as much money as possible to have her father released from prison. The scene where Elena and her mother are talking either with the prosecutor or someone from the tax department, they were clearly asked to bring a large sum of money her father owes to the government. But nobody asks, how in Belarus, someone like Elena with a low income can collect such a huge sum of money; it’s simply impossible.

Hence, this is what perhaps Lothar Herzog, as the writer and director of “1986” put into the centerline so that Elena can get some money. But the poor performance of the cast was too obvious for someone who does not need to read the subtitles. Also, it did not feel like all the actions taken by Elena were justified one way or another. The closing scene, especially, leaves us with many questions rather than answers. But that is something I will leave up to you to discover.

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