2015, Movies

TIFF 2015: The Return of the Atom (2015, Jussi Eerola, Mika Taanila)

This is an episodic and pretentious documentary about Finland’s newest nuclear power plant that manages to somehow both be hysterical – not “hysterical” as in “funny” but hysterical as in “insane” – and, somehow, extremely boring.

The film is unnecessarily long and episodic and the filmmakers seem to be attempting to make us as impatient as they were to see the plant finished. The score veers from goofy “Everything is perfect” merriment for the proponents of nuclear power – all of whom are industry people, I might add, there no scientists here…) -and artsy noise music, which seems to be an attempt to portray the noise of construction in musical form. (The girlfriend found it incredibly annoying.) There is probably 30+ minutes of footage devoted to the power plant construction, including either industry CGI about the plant or time-lapse photography of the plant being built – i.e. a quarter of the run-time.

The townsfolk and other people come in and out of the movie. Only one is deemed important enough to get most of the attention and he is obviously crazy. A former plant engineer, he has gone off the rails believing nuclear power caused his friend’s leukemia (and a whole host of other things). It’s hard to take anything he says seriously, even though he probably has serious issues to raise.

And that’s the biggest problem with this movie; there are a host of worthwhile topics that are brought up, briefly, but these guys don’t care about details. They aren’t trying to make a movie about the issues with nuclear power, or the issues of public-private “partnerships” in energy-production, or the story of the “most electrified town in Finland” or if this power plant has been built on a fault line – all of which would make good documentaries and the last of which could make an absolutely riveting documentary. They’d rather allude to all of these things, not follow through, and just scream at you that all of these things are probably bad and therefore nuclear power is evil. There are any number of potentially interesting and great documentaries here – including about migrant workers in Finland – but these guys made none of those.

Speaking of the migrant workers; these guys could have been left out of the movie. But, left in, the film feels shockingly anti-migrant and anti-Polish – the workers are portrayed as strip-club- and brothel-attending foreigners – up until the final scene that features them. The whole “subplot” is entirely superfluous and probably offensive.

Speaking of offensive…


a safety test is filmed as if it’s a real emergency. I can’t really condone that: it’s manipulative and the only reason I can possibly think to film it this way is to make us afraid.

The film features time with literally one scientist – a former professor, at that – who is given maybe 30 seconds of lines, and then drowned-out (literally) by the ranting of the crazy person who serves as the film’s focal point for the latter parts of the movie. One must assume that he had nothing else damning to say so they dropped his lines for more paranoia.

This is not a damning film about nuclear power. Maybe such a film can and should be made – I doubt that but I am not expert and look forward to a more educational film about this subject – but this film is just a couple of crazy people – and a lot of saner people – ranting and complaining about nuclear power or defending it, most of whom are not reliable and most of whom are clearly shown in drastically edited interviews, or interviews removed from their context.

As a final note: if you are trying to make a film about how nuclear power plants shouldn’t be built on fault lines but still are, one of your “experts” should not be the crazy guy’s even crazier neighbour, who claims the earth split in his yard, but has literally zero evidence – a nice yard with no fault line – to show for it.

The worst documentary I have yet seen at TIFF.


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