Metamorphosen \ Sebastian Mez
Official trailer

In the Russian province of Chelyabinsk, close to the northern border of Kazakhstan, is a quiet village called Muslyumovo. The crisp, powdery snow dances across its empty streets, over the ruins of brick buildings and the Techa River. A haunting wind blows through, hinting at a forgotten tragedy.

September 29, 1957, was an ordinary day for the community that once lived in Muslyumovo, until the Earth trembled. The explosion of a nuclear waste storage tank in the nearby Mayak power plant released a fog of radioactive substances into the sky, contaminating the people, animals, plants and water. The Kyshtym disaster, which had a similar impact as the Chernobyl fallout, remained a state secret (to everyone except Muslyumovolocals) until the Perestroika, the reformation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics between 1986 and 1991.

German filmmaker Sebastian Mez (who made 2007’s Do The Right Thing) exposes the quiet life that goes on in this secluded village, one of only 15 that remain from the 40 settlements that dotted the Techa River before the disaster. Mez also highlights how a nuclear accident can reverberate over time, detailing several other waves of radiation that have posed threats to village residents, as well as a terrifying power outage that became a narrow escape from a second Kyshtym disaster.

The storytelling in Metamorphosen is also wonderfully unconventional. By piecing together different experiences of the villagers, the film provides the audience with many perspectives on the ground-level impacts of nuclear disasters. Mez’s exposé proves that Muslyumovo’s pain holds many invaluable lessons that apply well beyond an inconspicuous, contaminated village in Russia.

Metamorphosen, directed by Sebastian Mez, Russia: Film Academy Baden-Wuerttemberg, 2013, 85 minutes

This documentary was included in our Around the World in 10 Docs map feature in Art & Media, issue 39.3. Subscribe now to get more reviews in your mailbox!

Reviewer Information

Semini is a graduate of the Environment and Resource Studies program at the University of Waterloo and a former A\J editorial intern.

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