In Invisible Paradise, director Daria Yurkevich follows a family of three teenage girls and their mother within a rural Belarusian community situated perilously close to the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
Their life is a simple one, and we get the sense that they are living in a manner not too dissimilar to how inhabitants have lived there for centuries.
The youngest girl in particular is a focus of juxtaposition, her innocence playing in sharp counterpoint to the bitter Belarusian landscape and the weathered old men in their battered khaki uniforms.
They are not at odds though. Within the harsh landscape, the community needs the ideals of hope and innocence that the young bring. And in turn the young need the dogged stubbornness in the face of an unforgiving, yet beautiful world that their elders have cultivated over time.
This is a world untouched by the noise of the larger world, a last bastion of an older, and perhaps more human, way of life. Yet glimpses of the outside world can be seen.
The mother and one of the girls discuss problems with a new sim card as they remove lard from an animal carcass on the kitchen table. In another scene, the eldest daughter is leading a cow to pasture, and in the next she is teaching her little sister about the meltdown at the nearby Chernobyl nuclear powerplant.
The director and crew operate seamlessly within the community, always remaining unobtrusive. Family squabbles will break out as if there were no camera present and the subjects carry on with their everyday lives, all of which presents us with a fascinating window onto their world.
The sounds of nature permeate every scene, underlining how the community seems to live in harmony with the land.
The film contains many long shots of the girls quietly working, which makes for some beautifully serene and bucolic scenes. Angelic choral melody accompanies tableaus of snow-covered landscapes. This suggests an uncorrupted Eden, as the name of the film suggests, one hidden behind a veil of seeming mundanity, and therefore of insignificance to the outside world.
However, this world is under threat. In a poignant moment, the youngest daughter is taught in school about the perils of over-fishing and pollution to the environment. She is told that in 100 years, there may not be any fish left. This theme is prevalent throughout – of an outside world encroaching both on nature and a more natural way of life.
Towards the end, we learn, in graphic terms, why there is no father present. At 34, he died of a plethora of symptoms: CAD, oxygen starvation of the brain, faulty heart valves that cause the heart to be flooded with blood.
We are then told that the people living here experienced twice the acceptable doses of radiation.
The area remains an invisible paradise, but is it soon to be a paradise lost?