RUSSIAN COSMOS

Susanna Harutyunyan
2005
fipresci.org

This is the second year in succession that the main award of the MIFF – Moscow International Film Festival – stays in Moscow. The comments regarding this were absolutely different and controversial. Those who did not like the film were awkwardly shaking their heads and saying that it had a mauvais ton. In addition, we should take into consideration that two of the jury members were Russians: the president of the jury was the famous scriptwriter Valentin Chernikh, and actor Victoria Tolstoganova. Others, including the president of the festival Nikita Mikhalkov, said that it was illogical to withdraw a well-made film and not to award the prize to Aleksei Uchitel only because the main prize was given to a participant from Russia last year. Yes, Dreaming of Space (Kosmos kak predchuvstvie) is, of course, an interesting and worthy work. Moreover, it was one of the obvious favorites in the competition program. ... It will return us once again to the enigmatic Russian soul, which invariably lives today for the sake of a happy tomorrow. ...

The recent film takes us back to the late 50s, to be more exact – 1957, which is the borderline between epochs. On the one side there lies darkness of Stalin's times, on the other there looms something similar to freedom. It is a time of hope and the sincere belief that the future will undoubtedly be bright. The Soviet satellite sends clear signals to the world: we are open to the world, and we will go even further and higher. On earth, the bright beaming eyes of the main protagonists Konyok and Lara – a restaurant cook and his waitress girlfriend – follow the movement of the first satellite called Sputnik in Russian, which is not only a man-made star but the symbol of new hope. Space resembles new hope and a new religion.

The setting of the film is also a border – the border between Soviet Union and Norway. Large waves separate the dejected existence in the nameless little Soviet port town with squalid workers' canteens from the dignified foreign vessels, arriving with unknown sounds, tastes and smells, and peering from its capitalist heights into this microcosmic segment of space called the USSR. It is scary for the Soviet man to imagine that somewhere out there exists a different life and a different freedom.

A chance acquaintance with Gherman, a stranger visiting the town, brings radical changes into the life of a simple-hearted Konyok. Gherman cracks open for Konyok the door to a different world, a world full of foreign "voices", painstaking physical training, and secret state missions. Gherman is the eternal dissident, he always feels cramped: cramped in the one-room flat, cramped in the provincial town, cramped in the Soviet Union. Gherman knows with utter certainty that one cannot run away from this country, but only fly – or swim. In the movie, Gherman is an embodiment of the desire to overcome the invisible but firmly knocked-together boundaries, enclosing the existence of man in that sad country. The inability to cope with this desire leads Gherman into the freezing waves of the Barents Sea. But it might be that a similar desire some years after led Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonavt (Russian for "astronaut") to space.

And what about Konyok? He will be carried towards a new life and new expectations by a comfortable Moscow train. In this train he will come face to face with Yuri Gagarin – a man with a kind smile who for some reason always got his right-shoe lace untied.