This year's top prizewinner at the Moscow film fest, Aleksei Uchitel's efficient fourth feature Dreaming of Space harks back to the Khrushchev era, when getting out of the Soviet Union meant either swimming the Barents Sea or becoming a cosmonaut. Unfussy but accurate period detailing and skillful perfs buoy up languorous love quadrangle story which engages but lacks the youthful fizz of Uchitel's last, The Stroll. Space should continue to orbit fest circuit.
Set, as per English subtitles on print caught, in a sleepy seaside burg near the Russian-Norwegian border, pic starts on Oct. 4, 1957, same day the Soviets launched the unmanned satellite Sputnik 1. Young restaurant cook Konyok (called "Horsey" in onscreen subtitles, played by Yevgeny Mironov) meets dock worker Gherman (Yevgeny Tzyganov) at the gym and is soon almost girlishly besotted with the sophisticated, super-cool Gherman – despite the fact that Konyok's dating his restaurant co-worker Lara (Irina Pegova). Gherman evades questions about his past, listens to foreign radio stations, studies English and is planning to emigrate at the first chance he gets. He starts stepping out with Lara's sister Rima (Yelena Lyadova), and the foursome double date for a while. As Konyok grows a moustache like Gherman's and starts dressing like him, the two men become almost as difficult to tell apart as the two sisters (who are finely cast for familial resemblance and then dressed similarly throughout). Gherman is imbued with such a ruthless hunger for freedom, however, he seduces Lara away from Konyok just because she sometimes works shifts as a waitress on a boat that's a meeting point for Russian and Norwegian sailors.
This quartet of ordinary workers, sexual pragmatists rather than swingers, is nothing like the promiscuous 1930s bohemians of Uchitel's His Wife's Diary or even the flirtatious trio at the heart of his The Stroll (in which Pegova also starred). Sex here seems to be something to do to kill the time while the nation, its imagination fired by the nascent space race, looks forward to a better tomorrow. Although sufferings of one character in the GULAG are briefly described, pic doesn't wag its finger at the Communists. Indeed, outright pride in past achievements is expressed through a gratuitous coda about the first man in space Yuri Gagarin, still revered today, and seen here both in digitally treated archive footage and impersonated by Dmitry Mulyar.
Tech package has polish without ostentation, while locations across the country from Kronshtadt in the North to Yalta in the South are cunningly used to make up pic's unnamed town.