Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Final Frontier




The Paper Soldier offers a very unique view of the "space race," in taking the point of view of a doctor responsible for the health and well being of the cosmonauts, Gagarin and Titov, in the weeks leading up to the historic launch.  This is no rose-tinted perspective, but rather how Chekhov or Pasternak might have imagined the space program, as all the action takes place in the distance, while the doctors deal with abject life in Baikonur, the remote cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.


It is a very well-crafted film, theatrical in its approach, with Aleksei German stripping away the heroic aspects of the epoch-making flight by treating Gagarin as a periphery figure.  German invents a doctor who struggles with the enormity of the situation, torn not only by the importance of the moment, but between a wife and a mistress.  One in Moscow, the other in Baikonur.  Here we see shades of Dr. Zhivago, as Nina represents his cosmopolitan world view and Vera the more pragmatic woman.  Interestingly enough, Chulpan Khamatova plays the cosmopolitan wife in this film, where she had played Lara in the Russian mini-series of Zhivago.


What struck me was the bleakness and squalor of Baikonur.  It looks literally like the end of the line to the railroad with a camel framing in a shot of a test rocket shooting into space in the distance.  It makes you wonder how the Soviets ever got a rocket into space.  The film takes its title from a ballad originally sung by Bulat Okudzhava.

You can watch the film in parts in Russian on Youtube.

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