Russian Film Festival: Salut-7

Writers: Aleksey Chupov, Jeffrey Hylton, Natalya Merkulova, Aleksey Samolyotov, Klim Shipenko

Director: Klim Shipenko

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

The middle years of the twentieth-century were dominated by the US-Russia space race, of which Hollywood has arguably been the biggest winner. Since the arrival of 2001: A Space Odyssey along with Star Trek in the 1960s and cemented by Star Wars in the 1970s, the American space film is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, but we rarely see movies like this made by other nations, least of all from old-rivals Russia, which makes Salut-7such an interesting addition to the Russian Film Festival later in November.

Based on a true story set in 1985, an unmanned Russian space station has broken down which left untended may well crash land somewhere in the USA with the force of a nuclear bomb. Two Russian cosmonauts – one an inexperienced Engineer, Alekhin, and the other a talented maverick, Fedorov – are launched into space and must attempt an almost impossible docking procedure with the damaged space station. With an American ship on route to intercept, Russia needs to act fast to save its craft and its national reputation.

Seeing space film conventions from a Russian perspective makes Salut-7 a genuinely interesting experience, but its 1-hour 50-minute runtime also sustains an engaging story about a team of scientists attempting the impossible in a time-limited scenario. While the large visual effects team with lead animator Gianluca Fratellini provide plenty of impressive spectacle showing the various spacecraft in orbit, curves of the earth and the effect of sunlight, fundamentally this is the heroic story of the team who made Russian history and particularly its two pilots.

Aspects of life on earth run on parallel tracks, we see the harassed team of officials and crew who man the control room in Russia while monitoring the health and trajectory of their colleagues on the space station. Alongside this is the picture of two very different marriages, Fedorov’s troubled by his addiction to life in the stars, while Alekhin has a more conventional arrangement with a baby due any day. All of this feeds well into the slightly combative, but ultimately respectful, relationship between old fishing buddies struggling to survive at close quarters.

Director Klim Shipenko balances the competing character development with the audience’s need for spectacle pretty well, ratcheting-up the tension with a series of problems to be solved. Shipenko plays with our expectations at times to explore how theoretical science and practical application do not always align, asking whether the sacrifice of human life is worthwhile if it advances our wider understanding, and where moments of high adrenaline can produce outcomes beyond possibility.

Vladimir Vdovichenkov’s Fedorov is quite a cold, unforgiving presence for much of the film, grounded for his own good and clearly restricted by the conventions of family life. Yet Vdovichenkov allows the audience to admire and understand his single-mindedness, especially when it results in the flashes of genius that elude everyone else, bringing a kind of respect for the character’s considerable experience of space travel.

His inexperienced partner Alekhin is much more familiar trope, but, with greater difficulties to overcome including homesickness and injury, Pavel Derevyanko brings an enduring spirit to the role that gives rise to the hope that both men survive against the odds. Aleksandr Samoylenko completes the trio of lead roles as Shudin the mission-control manager whose gamut of desperate and fearful emotions are a barometer for the audience as the scientists on earth become increasingly powerless.

With Maxim Volodin’s production team designing a familiar and immersive world of 1980s technology, Salut-7 grapples with many the big space movie questions as scientific endeavour and human emotion clash. With plenty of human drama and enjoyable space sequences, Salut-7 explores the extraordinary rarity of space flight – still relatively confined to a few individuals – and its life-altering effect on the cosmonauts who return.

Release Date: 26 November 2018 | Image: CTB Film Company

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