Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"The director digs into the psychogeography of the city with verve."

If you Google search the city of Karabash, you'll be greeted, along with a slightly more cheery Tripadvisor guide, to link after link declaring it "one of the most polluted places on Earth". Quite a claim to infamy for a city in Russia's Urals with a population of less than 14,000. The reason for its environmental red flag is a copper smelting plant - seen belching out smoke in the opening minute of Ilya Komarov's ruminative short film - that at one point spewed out toxic gas into the atmosphere.

Komarov's film, though featuring the plant and the zone around it, is not chiefly concerned with environmental concerns, but the stasis that the place seems to has found itself in. "The city has just fucking stopped," says one interviewee, although through the course of this short we'll come to see that the status quo offers a sort of benign comfort for this young man, who only views change as a negative. The director digs into the psychogeography of the city with verve, capturing on camera, along with fellow DoP Pavel Samokhvalov, the brutalist architecture and day-to-day goings on there, alongside interviews, intercut with archive footage that offers a certain amount of black humour. They don't try to mask the presence of the camera, lingering on people until they smile uneasily, aware they're being photographed, or using it to zoom in on buildings or trees, which lends the film an uneasy feel in places, an emotion heightened by the playful and experimental score from Zurkas Tepla (let's hope he gets to work on longer features soon).

Copy picture

We may not learn a lot of statistics about Karabash, but we get a feel for this place, as a man recalls a walk in which he nearly choked on smoke, or a woman and her boyfriend talk about the "boobsbar" where she works. Like last year's Froth, this is a gritty little portrait of a place most people couldn't pick out on a map asking questions about the way people respond to their environment.

Reviewed on: 14 Jul 2020
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Portrait of life in a city often branded "one of the most polluted" on Earth.

Director: Ilya Komarov

Year: 2019

Runtime: 29 minutes

Country: Russia


Doc/Fest 2020

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