Saturday, 29 June 2013

Aelita

Aelita; silent science-fiction, Russia, 1924; D: Yakov Protazanov, S: Nikolai Tseretelli, Vera Orlova, Yulia Solntseva, Igor Ilynsky

Stations from all over the world receive a signal from space, but cannot decipher the message and thus decide to ignore it. However, in Moscow, a young scientist and inventor, Los, thinks the signals may be from Mars. Indeed, Aelita, the queen on Mars, is observing the Soviet society and admires it, but the strict ruling class, the Elderly, forbid her that hobby and rather focus on exploiting the Martian working class. After Los' wife, Natasha, is caught flirting with Ehrlich, Los shoots her. He disguises himself as Spiridonov and builds a spaceship in order to fly to Mars with two stowaways, Gusov and a clumsy detective. The Elders order their arrest, but Gusov manages to start a revolution, encouraging the Martian working class to rebel against the Elders. Los falls in love with Aelita, but awakens - it was all his fantasy. Natasha is alive, Ehrlich is arrested while Los burns his papers and decides to stop daydreaming.

The first Soviet film of the science-fiction genre, "Aelita" is only a half-interesting silent achievement: the events on Mars are stimulative and refreshing, but the routine scenes on Earth are too often boring and overlong, especially the tiresome love triangle between Los, his wife Natasha and Ehrlich. Director Yakov Protazanov crafted a solid, but conventional drama, which takes too much time around the centre of the film, alas the viewers are left with no alternative but to wait for the main highlight, the trip to the Mars, which occurs very late, only around some 25 minutes before the end. This is where "Aelita" truly takes off - it has only two scenes with humble visual effects (time lapse scene of Martian crystals re-arranging on the table; the view of Earth from the spaceship window), but the set design and the costumes of the Martian society are quite unique and original for that time, since they are almost reminiscent of Lang's "Metropolis" or Griffith's "Intolerance". The costumes seem to be a blend of Babylonian clothes and a few futuristic details (helmets), as does the palace of the title queen. In some circles, the film remained infamous for its Soviet propaganda and establishment of the "export revolution" idea, i.e. that the Soviet rule should be spread towards other places, which does not make this a run-of-the-mill variation of Melies' "A Trip to the Moon": Gusov gives a speech towards the suppressed Martian working class ("Do what we did!"), upon which images of a man breaking his chains and putting a sickle and a hammer on a table are inserted, culminating with a hilarious, unintentionally comical request: "Form the Federative Socialist Republic of Mars!" The abrupt, confusing ending is indicative because it took such an imaginative concept just to give an anti-imaginative message, namely that daydreaming is useless and that people should rather spend their time doing something useful for the state. Still, Yulia Solntseva is effective as Aelita, whereas the film has its fair share of merits.

Grade;++

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