Friday, January 22, 2010

Danger Comrades! Danger!

Tumannost Andromedy(Andromeda Nebula) (1967)Directed by Yevgeni Sherstobitov

Andromeda Nebula is a confusing soviet sci-fi film, about interplanetary travel, "tantra" (no not the fun one), and burly square jawed men who resemble Alex Ross paintings. There are at least two story lines as far as I can tell. One is about a crew of explorers searching for something (probably some kind of space fuel) and becoming stranded on a distant planet thanks to their captain's hubris. Once on the planet they do battle with a spectral smoke monster who can only be fought off by using light. The captain is a stern and serious man and the object of a fellow shipmates affections. But what time has man for love when there are smoke monsters about. The romance which I assumed was obligatory at first actually made metaphorical sense to the film as a whole later and contributed to an odd sexual tension that underscores all the male and female interactions. Meanwhile back on earth the head of the Astro-travel guild (who I believe is also leader of the Earth) ponders ways to make travel instantaneous by altering the nature of time. To this end he sends one of his top scientists to Tibet to do. The future is a communist utopia, where in the first and near final scenes young people affirm and dedicate their lives and "desire" to the cause of labour. Like the captain the head of the guild is a strong man of action type, but he is in love with a woman as well. A woman who refuses to marry/sleep with him until the Captian's ship returns. Likewise the captain will not give in to his feeling so long as he is on a mission. Then there is the word "tantra" appearing again and again (when the smoke monster appears they can "feel it [their] spines"), which I think is the name of the ship, and seems to be the only thing that will allow everyone to get what they are after. The caption get's escape for himself and crew, the girl get's captain, the head of the guild get's the earthbound-girl, and the earthbound girl get's to stop worry about the Captian's ship. And everybody has a sexy good time. I'm sure much of my difficulties came from he fact that the subtitles I had were not the smoothest transitions, making lines of dialog appear more oblique than perhaps was intentional. There is a late in the game "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" memory wipe scene, that sums up some of the themes of the movie nicely. The notions of giving yourself to life's uncertainties, even if it means suffering, having loyalty and determination being more important than personal pleasures and practicality, and ultimately wanting to hold onto love for a person (or "ideaology) even if it hurts you to do so. It is surprisingly emotionally engaging in a film that had been so flat and stiff for the most part. Even if my translations were laughable at times. I would have given up much earlier, were it not for another unprecedented sequence involving Lotte Reiniger style silhouette animation. The scene involves a cosmic dance of at first a single woman, and then several women doing ballet in deep space (or else some weird/awesome random performance art?)I think this scene was supposed to represent some group or alien species who lived outside of "The Great Ring" the collective of intelligent planets to which Earth belongs. If so the dance seems almost subversive; the dance being one of the most beautiful parts of the movie (worth struggling through the rest for). As expected the men who observe "the dance" scoff but not after watching for a few moments in silence. "Andromeda Nebula" had great set designs like space ship which includes a full gym and swimming pool. The plot is largely incomprehensible with some occasional philosophical musings to fill out of the hollow core. So incomprehensible perhaps even the actors at times were dozzing off.
This is the type of film that would be mentioned in a Viktor Pelevin novel, and used as a spring board to generate myriad discussions of sex, time, the soviet regime, and the meaning of life. Unfortunately Pelevin did not right this, and it's not as good as all that. I can't recommend it for anyone looking to watch a "good movie", but if your in the right mood it's ocassionaly fascinating and ocassionaly cinematically exciting. I could have this movie all wrong though, so much can be lost in translation.

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