Under Control

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A German nuclear power plant in Under Control

There's something truly terrifying about elaborate systems of precaution: Danger lurks in the shadows of safety. German filmmaker Volker Sattel's eerily austere documentary addresses the grim potential of nuclear power entirely through implication, focusing his camera on the sanitized spaces and mundane systems of training, extracting, storing and disposing of unthinkably hazardous materials. In the windowless bowels of a power plant, fluorescent lights buzz and inscrutable contraptions clang and hiss. It's tough discerning an elaborate disaster simulation from the real thing.

In lieu of a traditional narrative arc and talking-head explication---there are, in fact, few words spoken throughout the film---Sattel constructs a tone poem via impeccably composed pictures that toe the line between beauty and banality, revelation and tedium. Clinical, blank-stare wide shots deliberately evoke Stanley Kubrick's 2001, offering a vision of a nuclear-powered future no less unsettling for having faded into the past. As one entrepreneur attests, the dismantling and repurposing of power plants is now a growth industry; the shell of one smokestack even hosts a supremely surreal amusement park. Mechanistic tracking shots mimic machines bent on keeping chaos under control, and in one seemingly endless take, an elevator descends deep into the earth to arrive at a cavernous warehouse where cans of waste wait out millions of years of active lethality. The unveiling is unnerving, and suggests that some dangers are now permanently beyond our control.

Follow Eric Hynes on Twitter: @eshynes

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