Photo credit: IFC Midnight
The new Russian film “Sputnik,” which starts streaming today, is not about the Soviet’s launch of the first artificial satellite but it is about space.
Russian filmmaker Egor Abramenko loved dinosaurs as a child and was sad to discover they were extinct. But when he found out they could be brought to life in movies he decided that was the career for him.
So, now that he has a chance to create his own creature, what better backdrop than the Soviet Space Program. And what better title than “Sputnik,” which not only calls to mind that era but which also translates as companion or fellow traveler. In 2017, Abramenko’s sci-fi thriller short “The Passenger” laid the groundwork for what would become the feature film “Sputnik.”
Abramenko sets his film in 1983 when Cold War tensions were high. A Russian spacecraft encounters difficulties on re-entry and crash lands on earth. One man is dead, one in a coma and and the third, Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov), can’t remember anything. So a psychologist, Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshinain), with unconventional methods is brought in to a top secret facility to try and reboot his memory.
But as she tries to evaluate his mental state she runs into resistance from those in charge to share all the information. Then she realizes that Veshnyakov has returned with a parasitic creature living inside him. The question she now faces is can she successfully separate the two? The alien can enter and exit his body but it is not clear how interdependent the two are and exactly how much control if any one has over the other.
Setting the story at the height of the Cold War provides a context in which the Soviet Union and its people were struggling with questions of identity. So, Veshnyakov and his parasitic fellow traveler serve up a split personality that works as a nice metaphor.
“The story in the film takes place in 1983, and it’s a deliberate choice,” screenwriter Andrei Zolotarev explained in the press notes. “We could have chosen a more modern setting, but we feel that the ’80s better correlate with our characters, especially with Semiradov, our antihero. It’s a transitional time of uncertainty when it was clear that a huge country is beginning to collapse into an unknown abyss, the time when the Cold War was about to end. It’s a period when the question ‘who am I really’ was paramount not just to those in the Soviet Union, but in the world.“
The film pays obvious and appreciative homage to Ridley Scott’s “Alien” but with its roots planted more firmly in the real world. The influence is clear but Abramnko’s film is not merely derivative. It just willingly acknowledges how Scott’s film impacted the sci-fi genre and then moves on to create something uniquely his own.
Abramenko comes from commercials and music videos but he invests the time to develop a compelling narrative that’s not merely fueled by style. The main attraction, however, is the alien itself, a beautifully designed creature that captures our imagination. Abramenko obviously loved creating this monster and revels in showing it to us in all its horrific splendor.
KPBS’ daily news podcast covering local politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings so you can listen on your morning commute.
Arts Culture Reporter
I cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.
To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.