Sunday, May 19, 2019

Aniara

I was kind of ready to hate Anaria from the previews and the design - sure, I wasn't going to miss any international science fiction film that hit the area, but the whole aesthetic of "make being in space look like not being in space" always rubs me the wrong way, especially when it's got a cool bit of space elevator special effects preceding it. There's value in connecting your science fiction to the real world in this sort of way, but it often seems like a limited imagination - your allegory isn't that clever if you have to stick so close to what you're representing.

The thing grew on me, though - it had room for wonder, and it didn't hurt that its central character was at her heart kind even if she was also a realist. There is a great deal of cruelty and despair to this movie, but the filmmakers never position that as a mark of sophistication or having a better handle on the world. It is thoroughly on the side of those who want to make things better or at least more bearable. I think this allows the filmmakers to get their messages across effectively even if they're often slow-walking them. It's a consistent, approachable point of view.

It doesn't look like it will get much theatrical play - I'm mildly surprised the Kendall showed it at all, considering it was on VOD day-and-date - and that's kind of a shame; it looks pretty good, although it's the sort of looking pretty good that's probably just as suited to a nice TV as the big screen. It certainly deserves it more than its obvious double feature partner in the Brattle's next "Recent Raves" series, High Life, but doesn't have the same sort of names attached. But, despite their seeming to have much in common, I wound up liking this one a lot more - it's art-house sci-fi, but doesn't ever seem to look down at its genre elements.

Aniara

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 May 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

The opening credits describe Aniara as based on a "space epos" and a line or two at the end seem to call back to the old Viking Sagas, although it is very pointedly not a tale of thrilling adventure. It doesn't quite revel in mundanity or despair, but instead plugs away with a combination of practicality and despair, eventually finding a balance between the two that is much better than one might expect.

It opens with MR (Amelie Jonsson) taking the orbital elevator to the Aniara, a ship which makes regular runs between Earth and Mars, although the implication seems to be that this outbound trip sees more people than those coming back to Earth. She's staff, operating the "Mima Hall", a sort of energy field which allows visitors to experience being somewhere else. She's bunking with the ship's astronomer (Anneli Martini) and has her eyes on pilot Isagel (Bianca Cruzeiro). It's supposed to be a three-week trip, but an encounter with some tiny pieces of space junk forces the ship to divert and eject their fuel. Captain Chefone (Arvin Kananian) announces that they will use the gravity of a celestial body to redirect their course to Mars, arriving in no more than two years - although you don't have to be an astronomer to know that the solar system is vast and empty, and getting close enough to an asteroid massive enough to change their course is not likely.

Directors Pella K├ągerman and Hugo Lilja do interesting things starting with the titles, starting with a tiny pixel grabbing the audience's attention to prepare the audience for the scale involved, followed by presenting many of the opening credits in a closing-style scroll over a series of disastrous stock footage. It signals an ending, that Earth is being fled rather than the ship simply being the twenty-second century equivalent of a steam liner, and that shapes the rest of the movie without a whole lot of talk: The audience never thinks much about rescue, for example, although that might be the focus of another take on similar material, and there's just enough of a combination of high gloss in the effects and setting but passengers with burns to make it clear that this is a somewhat gilded period.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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