This poetic examination of the lasting impact of nuclear testing and colonisation on the native people of Tahiti and French Polynesia looks set to become a key reference point for years to come.
Fracophone Belgian director Annick Ghijzelings tackles perhaps her most ambitious – and certainly longest – documentary film in Ma’ohi Nui, in the Heart of the Ocean My Country Lies.
At 112 minutes this poetic examination of the lasting impact of nuclear testing and colonisation on the native people of Tahiti and French Polynesia, could have benefited from tighter editing and firmer framing.
Ghijzelings weaves the story of three decades of French atomic bomb testing in the atolls of the Polynesian archipelago – when 193 nuclear devices were exploded above and below ground between 1966 and 1996 – with the destructive impact on the people and culture of those who live there.
«Our land is polluted, our land is poisoned.» – Tahiti native
Held together with a poetic narrative in both French and Tahitian languages that weaves history, myth and creation stories set to entrancing images of nocturnal boat journeys, tattered huts in an airport-side shanty town, and long shots of expressively silent locals, the film also tells the contemporary story of precisely how the French state’s nuclear ambitions devastated these islands.
As is often the case with films written, directed, photographed and edited by one filmmaker, Ghijzelings’ obvious love for her subject and material means she is loathe to tighten the film’s focus and length.
Death from radiation
The film opens with compelling voices and then images addressing the first nuclear test on July 2, 1966 – when a massive mushroom cloud erupted over the Morurora atoll, –leaving the fragile rocky rim and interior lagoon dangerously radioactive to this day.