Alexei and the Spring

Five years after his acclaimed 1997 study of a Belarus town after Chernobyl forced its evacuation, Japanese photographer-turned-documentarian Seiichi Motohashi revisits the polluted land to film a nearby village. Though initially drawn to the region by its nuclear catastrophe, Motohashi appears more interested in the lush beauty of the countryside and the back-to-nature rhythms created by the disaster.

Five years after “Nadya’s Village,” his acclaimed 1997 study of a Belarus town after Chernobyl forced the evacuation of most of its inhabitants, Japanese photographer-turned-documentarian Seiichi Motohashi revisits the polluted land to film a nearby village, Budische. Though initially drawn to the region by its nuclear catastrophe, Motohashi appears more interested in the lush beauty of the countryside and the back-to-nature rhythms created by the disaster, as pic follows the primitive everyday tasks of Budische’s 55 aged townsfolk. Docu’s curious blend of nuclear dread and pastoral simplicity, already snagging it several awards on fest circuit, might win it limited theatrical play before cable run.

Docu is presided over by 34-year-old Alexei, the only able-bodied young man left in Budische. Alexei’s love of the land and the animals is matched only by his pleasure in serving his community. He matter-of-factly explains the village’s rites and rituals and the changes wrought by Chernobyl, which necessitated a throwback to a vanished lifestyle only the very elderly remembered.

Most work is now done by hand and by horse, the sole agricultural machinery in service looking like it was imported from Grigori Aleksandrov and Sergei M. Eisenstein’s 1929 paean to the peasant collective, “The General Line.”

Though the old men are still spry, the villagers depend on Alexei to repair and run the tractor and combine, and to do the heavy lifting. Central to Budische’s survival is its fabled spring, the waters of which are miraculously free of radiation. Motohashi chronicles the almost daily visits by old men and women to fetch water regardless of season.

Motohashi’s long takes and tranquil vistas seduce the viewer into an appreciation of this primeval existence, aided greatly by Masafumi Ichinose’s uncharacteristically serene lensing and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s quietly magisterial score.

Alexei and the Spring

Japan

Production: A Sosna Film production. Produced by Tokio Komatsubara, Sadako Kamiya. Directed by Seiichi Motohashi.

Crew: Camera (color), Masafumi Ichinose; editor, Masaru Muramoto; music, Ryuichi Stakamoto; sound, Shigeo Nagai. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival, May 9, 2003. Running time: 105 MIN. (Belorussian dialogue)

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