The True Story Thriller Hauntingly Similar To Chernobyl

By Nikola Pajtic | Published

Based on Goran Milašinović’s book The Vinča Case, Guardians of the Formula dives into the true story of a nuclear experiment that went south at the Vinča Institute in Yugoslavia in 1958. 

Whether you watched it in theatre or at home, after the credits role, Guardians of the Formula will leave you with a strange mix of emotions, just like it did to me. Director Dragan Bjelogrlić had crafted a film that left me stunned, needing a moment to gather my thoughts and process the rollercoaster ride I had just been on. 

Forgotten Real-Life Disaster

Yes, the story of Guardians of the Formula is a harrowing one, but the heavy air around Vinča Institute that night isn’t just what will make you grasp for air, but the way that story is told. There was laughter, bursts of humor, and music while the young Yugoslav scientists, who were just out of the university, were awaiting their fate. Like many in communist countries at the time, they were kept in the dark about the full picture and the true gravity of the situation. 

Nuclear Experiment Goes Wrong

To better understand what I’m talking about, when the nuclear experiment goes wrong at Vinča, several young scientists and their professor are irradiated, and without a cure in their native country, they are whisked away to France on a secret flight to Curie University in hope for a medical marvel

There, they are greeted by Dr. Georges Mathé, who is at first hesitant to treat them due to his fierce anti-nuclear stance. However, as a scientist, he is intrigued by new methods medicine has in store, which leads to an attempt at a groundbreaking bone marrow transplant.

Follows Three Connected Stories

From this point, Guardians of the Formula branches into three main stories: the clash of personalities between Dr. Mathé and the irradiated Professor Dragoslav Popović, the leader of the irradiated group; the race against the time to heal the group; and how the political causes dipped their hands behind the malfunction at Vinča. 

A Stellar Cast

Thanks to a stellar cast, every emotion on screen is palpable. Radivoje Bukvić, already a veteran actor, delivered an award-winning performance as Professor Popović. We see him through a journey of ambition, anger, and desperation as he fights for his life and the lives of his young scientists. In an act of total despair, he cut all ties with the Yugoslav government and the nuclear program. 

Alexis Manenti portrays Dr. Mathé in all his brilliance and internal conflict. The younger Serbian cast is at the task as well, including Ognjen Mićović, Jovan Jovanović, and Alisa Radaković as they all display vulnerability in their fight for survival.  

Award-Winning Film

Filming Guardians of the Formula took a year from 2022 to 2023 at various locations in Serbia, Slovenia, and France. The film’s world premiere took place at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland in August 2023. 

Guardians of the Formula won two awards there, including the Variety Award for Best Film. At the Sarajevo Film Festival and the Palm Springs, this period drama continued to impress, winning the Audience Award for Best Feature Film and Best of the Fest Audience Vote for Best Film. 

Good Came Out Of It


Set against the backdrop of a real-life tragic event, Guardians of the Formula isn’t your next Oppenheimer or even a disaster recreation like Chernobyl. You will slowly dissect every scene as the film isn’t quite shy in showing the dire consequences of radiation poisoning. 

Something good came out of the government-fueled ambition that lacked both knowledge and resources. The fight for survival led to the bone marrow transplant, which is now a standard treatment for leukemia patients worldwide. Dragan Bjelogrlić marvelously weaves in every emotion you can exhibit in situations like these, and at no point is the film dull or slow, as historical dramas can sometimes get. 

Guardians of the Formula is a must-watch if you are into period dramas.