Twenty-five years have passed since the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. Since that time, the exclusion zone has remained closed off to the outside world.
But a young Ukrainian is now inside this forbidden area, searching for an old family secret that lies dormant — a secret that will explain many of the mysteries of his life.
Undeniably ambitious and visually impressive, this short drama from writer-director Jordi Montornes and co-writer Sergi Mari is an atmospheric and haunting meditation on family, legacy and the horrors buried in the past that shape our identities today.
With the somber, painterly cinematography, sweeping camerawork and a deliberate, disembodied sense of rhythm and pacing, the craftsmanship not only portrays the wasted landscape of Russia, but evokes Russian cinematic giants like Andrei Tarkovsky in its ability to create a contemplative, dreamlike experience that feels very much like experiencing a memory as it is being made.
Its portrayal of the grim, desolate and ravaged city of Prypiat, where the Chernobyl disaster took place, is a remarkable achievement, especially considering that the production itself was shot in Spain. With its feel for the texture of ruins, the setting forms the backdrop for a cinematic experience that privileges the sheer power of moving images and sound over straightforward storytelling. This kind of narrative can be challenging, requiring that viewers let go of expectations of immediate cause and effect. But the stunning imagery is able to evoke the devastation of Chernobyl in a way that mere words or dialogue can barely touch upon.
Many of the images are details and landscape shots accompanying the young man’s voiceover as he wanders and investigates the disaster zone. The dense, detailed sound design — full of pensive voiceover, radiation measurement sounds, atonal musical score and alarms — commingle temporal dimensions of past and present. Yet this fits the main character’s subjectivity, as a young man haunted by his family secrets. As he delves deeper into the ruins of Chernobyl, though, he finally confronts the mysteries of his past — and unlocks the key to his future.
“Yuri’s Omen” works like an impressionistic stream of images, feelings, thoughts, musings and sounds, washing over viewers and pulling them into a powerful current of almost mystical cinematic atmosphere. Easy answers aren’t given here, but with such distinctive visuals and a poetic approach to craft, the film strikes a deep emotional chord as it mirrors no less than the journey to understand one’s deepest self. Yoking the global disaster of a nuclear accident to the inner ravages of generational trauma, “Yuri’s Omen” captures the difficult heart of confronting our worst fears — the possibilities when we face them directly.