Dir/Wri: Alexander Abaturov | DoP Paul Guilhaume | France, Doc, 91′
When it comes to wildfires the spectacle of a roaring blaze in the middle of a snowy landscape does not normally spring to mind. But climate change has recently played havoc in the northern hemisphere, as filmmaker Alexander Abaturov discovers in his cinematic ethnological portrait of Siberia where sweltering heatwaves and drought are a new phenomenon.
Paradise opens with a smoozy rather seductive opening sequence as the camera glides softly over frosty rooftops and sweeps down onto a reflective scene picturing a little girl saying her prayers with the words: “Tell me, Sacred Mountain, do you see the whole Earth from here?”.
In 2021 alone, fires burned 19 million hectares in Russia, and for first time ever ashes blew to the North Pole. Back down to earth in the heart of the ‘taiga’ lies the village of Shologon where and the natives are adopting a zen approach to dealing with the exceptional circumstances. By nature a peaceful people their calm collaboration contrasts with the – hardly surprising – inflammatory reaction we have come to expect from the recent outbreaks, but the Siberian stance is certainly novel, and makes for a reflective and contemplative look at how these chilly lands are fighting fire – not with fire – but with collaborative calm.
In the distance billowing smoke heralds the incendiary arrival of trouble. A group of firefighters make their way on open trucks to the root of the problem through sparse woodland. There is no blaze to speak of, just a smouldering scarlet-tinged landscape and the locals name it ‘the dragon’ as they quickly retreat back to base to report their findings and regroup.
Without a formal fire service or governmental aid they are forced to rely on mutual and community support. Helicopters supply water to assist in quelling the outbreak and the final scenes, filmed in slow-burn close-up, take us right to the centre of the blaze creeping like a seething living carpet of flames through the undergrowth.
What impresses here is the way the firefighters work serenely and methodically to put out the blaze. Making use of an evocative soundscape scored by Les Percussions de Strasbourg, Abaturov’s sophomore documentary morphs into a surreal and dreamlike meditation as humans battle the elements, almost beyond them, and ‘The Dragon’ is tackled and finally laid to rest. MT
IN COMPETITION | INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL AMSTERDAM 2022 | 9 – 20 November 2022