“Our Journey”, introspection over Ciudanovita uranium mines

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Ciudanovita, an exquisite but underprivileged region in Banat, Romania, and its uranium mines are depicted by the Romanian-born independent filmmaker Ben Todica, who has been living in Australia since 1979. Lenuta Giukin from the State University of New York at Oswego is reviewing Mr. Todica’s “Our Journey”, inviting all of us to discover a special community with tragic destinies, inside a disadvantaged area.

 

 Our Journey by Benone Todica

A commentary

 

<<At the foot of a glen, at Heaven’s gate…>> once upon a time there was a heavenly place called Ciudanovita. Our Journey, Benoni Todica’s documentary, reveals the story of this place and gradually transforms itself into a ballad dedicated to the “uranium children.” Twenty years later, Benoni, a uranium child himself, currently residing in Australia, revisits old places now mystified by the distance of exile, sanctified by memory and yearning, lost yet rescued by surrealist hazardous circumstances. His fate becomes profoundly connected to this place where, back in the seventies, he filmed the uranium mine and its people. At the miraculous intersection between the past and the present, Benoni manages to create a multidimensional cinematographic masterpiece, to give life to “emptiness” and, above all, to make heard once again the voices of thousands of immortal anonymous people who lived their lives in camp-like barracks “at the mercy of radiations.”

A nostalgic trip to the springs of yesterday’s history, Our Journey invites the viewer, through the use of anamorphic lenses, into a monumental landscape dominated by fading winter colors and the eerie silence of the space. In cosmic silence, under the gaze of the celluloid screen that caresses the round contours of the mountains, the voices of two travelers, Benoni and Deluta, guide us through the labyrinth of time like Ariadne’s thread.

Gradually, this almost unreal journey reveals its secrets: the facets of the past are resuscitated into a symphony of life. Galleries of deserted slopes, dilapidated buildings, empty bunkers, and deserted streets are now animated by the camera that once made immortal the activities of a not-too-long-ago prosperous community. With the help of these witnesses of the past and survivors of uranium radiation still living in Ciudanovita, Benoni reconstitutes the genesis of a “heaven’s gate.” The merriment of Ciudanovita’s children, “who never go on vacation,” but whose playground is “everywhere,” intertwines with different stories about the former local mascot, Mihutz, as well as about the history of the place and its people. Nostalgic voices, an old woman’s tearful glances, happy reunions, a retiree dressed up as a miner wearing his old helmet and mine lamp, faithfully preserved, a re-celebration of communal holidays through the power of words, all these miraculously blend into new images carved by the force of memory.

The camera freezes obsessively over today’s phantasmatic buildings or over the timid faces of people stranded in a corner of a world where in the seventies there still arrived an imposing fairytale-like steam engine. The contrast between the two worlds occasions a reflection upon the role of this place in national and contemporary history, as the present “does not live up to the past.” Our Journey becomes an opportunity for meditation not only on human existence, but also on the role of diaspora’s memory in defining identity values. Benoni recreates Ciudanovita with the passion of someone who has for a long time fed himself on sacred memories through an invisible umbilical cord. In returning home, he literally drinks the milk-like water of Ciudanovita River and eats the barbeques of Tibi the retiree, temporarily transformed into a miner for the camera. The act of eating becomes a way of asserting history as well as one’s own existence.

Our Journey is a monument against time, this “monster” that cannot counter the camera’s testimonies. Benoni proposes this film as a way of setting ourselves free from “anonymity” and from the “hell of forgetfulness,” as an irrepressible reality, obsessive and powerful, born out of deep nostalgia, which can be seen in every image. A metaphor of life indeed, Benoni Todica’s documentary reaches everyone through those banal things that we all carry in our souls and which are essential and profoundly human.

By Lenuta Giukin

State University of New York at Oswego       

 

Todica – DRUMUL NOSTRU – ep. 1 de vorba cu Deluta in 2000

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