Under Control


Formalist documentary Under Control, Volker Sattel’s portfolio of widescreen images taken at a series of Deutschland’s nuclear power plants—operational, never-used, and out-of-business—deals with the vigilant attempt to use “fail-safe” German engineering to secure potentially destructive forces. The film was completed by May 2011, shortly after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and our knowledge of this hangs over the ill-fated PR discussions recorded herein, attempting to salvage the reputation of nuclear power. Alternating between interviews with industry figures—who lucidly and rationally discuss the nature of their work, the enormous benefits it offers to humanity, and so on—and still lifes of the plants, both in panorama and in the baffling close-up complexity of their innards, the film is a dialectic between order, augmented by Sattel’s evident gift for composition, and chaos. For, after watching Under Control, the layman will not comfortably understand how all of this works any better than before the film began. Once that point is made, this push-pull settles into a certain lulling monotony, wandering a wilderness of wires, cooling towers, and a thousand other inscrutable devices, but it is a monotony with an undertone of menace.

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