2016/02/12

Sweet Kisses from Moruroa


A preview of Sweet Kisses from Moruroa, a new film about the victims of French nuclear tests in the South Pacific

A film by Larbi Benchiha. Aligal Production and France Télévisions. To be broadcast February 15, 2016 23:30, and March 10, 2016 8:45 by France 3 Bretagne. DVD release to follow.


One third of the personnel who participated in the nuclear tests in the Pacific were from Brittany [Breton, Bretagne]. Twenty years after the tests stopped, it is now clear that the persons exposed and their descendants still pay a heavy price. Larbi Benchiha introduces them to us this Monday evening.
Sweet Kisses from Moruroa,* from its first images, strikes the viewer like an uppercut. The kisses in question are an atomic mushroom cloud? As soon as it settles, a second burst erupts along with the testimony of André Potin, one of France’s nuclear sacrifices:

“We were able to watch the mushroom cloud. It was magnificent to see. It was beautiful to see. One is awestruck by such a thing!”

The director of this documentary, Larbi Benchiha, recognizes this. “This title, it’s a knowing wink [to the allure and the fascination of the mission]. They left for Moruroa like they were going on a vacation. It was a good life. They were well paid.” They were young Bretons heading off for Polynesia, proud to be doing something for the grandeur of their country by participating in the French nuclear tests. “Me, I believed in it strongly, serving my country,” adds André Potin.

Between 1966 and 1996, France carried out 193 nuclear tests in Moruroa and Fangataufa in French Polynesia. Forty-six of them were atmospheric tests carried out without any protection. That is to say they were open air spectacles. 150,000 civilian and military personnel worked on them, and one third of them were Bretons. They were not spared from radioactive fallout, and neither was the population of Polynesia.

“This was a time when everything was known about the toxicity of ionizing radiation,” explains Dr. Annie Thebaud-Mony, health sociologist at INSERM (institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale). Those who planned the nuclear tests were completely aware of the risks.

Hypocrisy

When one sees in the archives General de Gaulle, visiting Tahiti to observe the nuclear tests, declaring, “Polynesians truly wanted this to be the place where this great project, destined to give to France the power of a deterrent force (…), ” one realizes the extent of the hypocrisy of those who made decisions in those days. What’s more, the State knew that the native population was genetically fragile because on the atolls there was a lot of consanguinity [a gene pool that had been isolated for centuries]. But once Algeria became independent in 1962, they had to find another place to carry out tests to achieve the status as a nuclear power that France demanded.

From generation to generation

Twenty years after the nuclear tests ended in 1996, by President Jacques Chirac’s decision, Larbi Benchiha found witnesses from the era. It is their story that he recounts. It is a history of suffering, illnesses, handicaps, sterility, and stillborn children. Cancer struck many of them, some of whom are still alive. In some the damage was passed down to descendants as malformations due to genetic mutation—a veritable Sword of Damocles for these families because mutations could appear anytime in future generations.

Recognition

In 2011, the delegate of la sûreté nucléaire de la defense, Marcel Julien de la Gravière, declared that it was necessary to accept that Moruroa and Fangataufa were irreparably lost; that is, definitively uninhabitable. Today, the victims of nuclear testing are demanding recognition of occupational illnesses and compensation for damages. Two witnesses in the film have passed away since being interviewed, André Potin and Charles-André Fischer. This film is dedicated to them.

*Tentative English title by the translator.

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