An American documentary filmmaker drops into the well of one of Soviet Russia’s greatest mysteries.
Eichar, who has shot everything from short documentaries to TV pilots, applies a documentarian’s eye to this thorough but inconclusive investigation into one of the East’s most controversial tragedies. “The Dyatlov Pass Incident” is quite famous in some circles, especially in Russia and the Baltics, but little-known outside the former Iron Curtain. In 1959, nine young hikers suddenly disappeared in the northern Ural Mountains. When the group was finally found, six had died of exposure, while three were found to have traumatic, blunt-force injuries. One girl was missing her tongue. None were fully dressed, as if they had fled suddenly in the dead of night. It was a gruesome scene, made more so by a flood of conspiracy theories. Were they murdered by the military after witnessing some kind of secret test? Was it UFOs or just an avalanche? The final report by investigators, which is murky at best, blames “an unknown compelling force.” Eichar marries the short story of the students’ lives with the procedural tale of the official investigation and then integrates his own amateur investigation. In an interesting twist, the author managed to track down Yuri Yudin, the sole survivor of the expedition, who had turned back due to his rheumatism, saving his life. Yudin, who passed away earlier this year, was mischievous with the serious young scholar: “Do you not have mysteries in your own country that are unsolved?”; “Which picture do you want to paint? The one rooted in the Revolution, or that of the Iron Curtain?” The author deftly explores theories common and uncommon, the most off-putting being an infrasonic wave known to cause hallucinations and disorientation. It’s not a revelatory portrait of the incident, but for Western readers, it’s a well-told and accurate whodunit.
A sad tale of tragedy and investigatory enigmas from the wilds of Soviet Union.