Occupying the liminal space between a geological excavation and speculative realism, Emilija Škarnulytė’s hypnotic documentary effortlessly moves between the micro and the macro. Zooming into a 3D-configuration of uranium ore, the film’s opening cuts to X-ray-esque renderings of radioactive household objects, all cast in an eerie shade of sickly green. These abstractions soon give way to something seemingly concrete yet equally mysterious: the camera plunges underwater, bringing us face to face with the remains of a 1950s uranium mine in Poland, once dug out in secrecy under the Soviet Union. Slithering through the wreckage is a water python, whose glistening presence serves as a kind of cosmic counterpart to the exploitation of natural resources.
Such slipperiness, both in terms of the imagery and the camera’s point of view, recurs throughout Škarnulytė’s film. Cutting to the Ignalina nuclear power station in Lithuania, a sister plant of Chernobyl, the film uses on-screen text to describe its decommissioning process, which produced millions of cubic metres of reinforced concrete structures to be demolished. This colossal waste will, hopefully, be processed at a research facility at Meuse in France, which is situated about 500 metres below sea level.
Though moving through these highly technological spaces, Škarnulytė’s film also makes space for bursts of surrealism. The python reappears in the Ignalina plant, as its gleaming form coils around the station’s switchboards. Bringing together the lush forests, the mushroom clouds of nuclear tests, and closeups of a snake shedding its skin, Burial questions the very possibility of rebirth and transformation. Even as Ignalina is ground into dust and buried away from prying eyes, the political spectre of the Soviet Union control continues to lurk, as the film offers a final message of support for Ukraine.