The Return of the Atom (2015)
Dir. Mika Taanila, Jussi Eerola
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Sometimes The Return of the Atom seems like a chilling political science fiction thriller. In other instances you're laughing so hard it feels like a mad, satirical expose a la Dr. Strangelove (crossed with Kafka, of course). Other times, the lies dispensed by corporate pigs in the nuclear industry are uttered with such straight faces, you won't know whether to laugh or cry or cry laughing, but they seem so ludicrous that one assumes their moronic spin might have been written by Ed Wood for a sequel to Plan 9 From Outer Space. But no, you are watching an ultimately terrifying, eye-opening and thorough documentary about the utter madness of the western world's first major nuclear power plant being constructed after the horrendous 1986 Chornobyl disaster in Ukraine.
Directors Mika Taanila and Jussi Eerola have aimed their cameras squarely upon the folly that is the nuclear industry in Eurajoki, Finland. Shooting over 100 hours over the course of 8 long years, we're privy to several unalterable truths. First of all, this western region contains two of the four working nuclear power plants in all of Finland. Secondly, Eurajoki has a tiny population base over a huge land mass and as such, ANY development on the part of unscrupulous big business is welcomed with open arms by politicians desperate for a larger share of the economy. Thirdly, the region is home to the building of the aforementioned nuclear reactor - a project fraught with so many follies that it's been delayed from completion for almost a decade.
This is madness and the film is less a swipe at Finland as it is a condemnation of the nuclear power industry worldwide. The corporate pigs are always looking for the fresh meat of underpopulated locales in order to swindle the locals into thinking that this is the best thing for them. Keep in mind, though, that Tanila and Eerola are also not going out of their way to slant things in one direction or the other, since the guilty parties more than do their best at hanging themselves with their obvious spin and lies.
The movie presents several important issues: the increase of leukaemia amongst the populace, general malaise amongst them, the clear common sense arguments presented by scientists, experts and activists falling on deaf ears, the reality that so many jobs need to be filled that foreign workers, NOT locals and in one case, creepily (though not surprisingly), we meet an activist being threatened and harassed until she fears for her own safety.
Perhaps most incredible of all, though, is the sumptuously photographed footage of the plant as it is being constructed (and still not finished) over several years. These sequences are imbued with an eerie and terrible beauty that's unforgettable. Though the film is not without its occasional longueurs, they're ultimately forgivable given the momentous task the filmmakers have set for themselves to capture this important document of man's continued decimation of the earth for profit.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ 3-and-a-half-stars
The Return of the Atom receives its World Premiere in the TIFF DOCS program at TIFF 2015. For dates, times and tix, visit the TIFF website HERE.