Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Cloud, from Germany: a super Chernobyl rehearsal


The Cloud (“Die Wolke”), 2006, directed by Gregor Schnitzler, story and spec script by Jane Ainscough, distributed by Concorde, is a curious disaster movie from Germany that has not gotten much showing in the US. It was shown at the Goethe Institute in Washington as part of the DC Environmental Film Festival of 2008. "Cloud" is an interesting title for a movie; one of Claude Debussy's Images is called "Nuages" but this movie is not misty and dreamy.

What’s curious about this film is its narrative and storytelling paradigm. It presents appealing and likeable upper middle class kids in Germany somewhere near Frankfurt. European kids may outperform American ones, but they taunt their biology teacher, throw house parties, drive fast cars, and rebel against their parents. The film looks big, pseudo-Hollywood and green, shot 2.35:1, and it seems to toy with the audience for a twenty minutes. What’s up? Of course, most people who come to see this film know what it is: a super Three Mile Island, a super Chernobyl, will kill 38000 people nearby. Elmar (Franz Dinda) and Hannah (Paula Kalenberg) are rather like Romeo and Juliet (one could imagine a younger Di Caprio as Elmar). They exchange handwritten messages (forget the text kind on cell phones) during a test and get away with it, and are kissing in the hall on test time, when the sirens go off. What’s odd is that Elmar knows almost immediately that this isn’t just a test, that it’s bad news.

We hear a lot about duct tape and evacuation. Although the evacuations look orderly at first, they quickly breakdown, with some teenage rebellion. It doesn’t take long before the circumstances are desperate. The picturesque Bavarian-like town that they live in gets overrun by escaped cattle, for example. The movie could be compared to this year’s “Right at your Door” (see Sept. 2, 2007 on this blog). Hannah winds up in quarantine in a hospital. Quickly she develops radiation sickness, and goes bald. (From pre-production you can see the buzz-cut; in real radiation poisoning there would be no stubble at all.) Elmar has “escaped” the quarantine but finds her. There is talk that they can contaminate each other (I don’t know if that is possible). But soon, Elmar notices what look like Kaposi’s Sarcoma lesions on his chest. Apparently he, too, was exposed to radiation when fleeing, and his immune system was destroyed, so his prognosis will mimic the development of AIDS. The remainder of the film will chronicle what life they have left together. But it’s interesting to see how Elmar goes from headstrong teen to an altruistic soul.

In the meantime, television is pumping stories about the mass deaths, and government plans to gradually resettle the area. Life will never the be same, and the disaster seems to be turning Germany into an almost communistic state.

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