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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.19.19] Denmark scifi

Based on the epic poem by Harry Martinson, this Swedish science fiction drama concerns the fate of the titular spaceship Aniara, on it's way to Mars with refuges from a ruined planet Earth, as it's knocked off course by an asteroid and doomed to float through space for the rest of the passengers' lives. It is at turns a deeply haunting film, meditative, occasionally funny and strikingly bleak.

We follow MR, a woman who runs the ship's 'Mima' room. The Mima is a partly organic, sentient machine which allows the crew to access their memories and dreams, and in a virtual sense to return to the Earth as it was before it became uninhabitable. MR is a 'Mimarobe', specially trained to operate the machine and assist passengers in using it.

While at first the Mima receives only casual visitors (the ship's interior is designed like a vast ocean-liner, complete with huge shopping malls, bars, clubs and concert venues), once the severity of the situation becomes apparent, people begin to rely on the Mima for comfort in the loneliness of space. Mima can't sustain itself however, and begins to despair at the volume of unhappiness with which it is now forced to cope - and it starts to malfunction.

As months turn to years and with little hope of rescue, we watch MR as she watches humanity slowly lose hope, and instead turn to sensual pleasures and delusional cultish belief systems. Depression, violence, suicide. MR is an optimist, she believes in humanity, but at every turn her good nature is tested. The film never resorts to gratuitousness or cheap tactics, it is not extreme or unpleasant to watch, but it does go to some dark places.

How would you cope? What would you do? The film moves smoothly through ups and downs, showing us how various reoccurring characters adapt to life trapped in this gilded cage. Resources are sustainable, and accommodation comfortable, but you'll never see the sun or the ocean again. (Incredibly the ship also never seems to run out of alcohol.) One of the most impressive things about Aniara is that, despite its grim subject matter, it never becomes tedious or preachy - there is enough happening from scene to scene and with characters we relate to (imagine being in the captain's shoes!) that we continually want to see where it's headed. The final scenes do not disappoint.

As the film played I was reminded of some other films, of course. Solaris is the obvious reference point for a film like this, and yes it owes a debt to Tarkovsky's masterpiece - although the poem predates both that film and its source novel. The idea of people becoming addicted to their own dreams also made me think of Wim Wender's oft-overlooked Until the End of the World. In the end though, Aniara is very much its own film - skillfully crafted by writer-directors Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja, and with Emelie Jonsson giving a fine central performance. It feels like this is a cult film just waiting for the cult to discover it.

If you have any interest in contemporary sci-fi drama and want something with a little more depth than shiny Hollywood fare like, say, Passengers, then give yourself a treat and check this out.

Recommended Release: Aniara

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uncleB (2 years ago) Reply

HIGHRISE is apace


jonjay726 (2 years ago) Reply

Just saw a trailer for this new HBO series and looks like a (rich man's) crappy/funny version of what I thought was one of the year's most engaging sci-fi films.


Wumpus (1 year ago) Reply

Thanks for the review, this, plus one on the AV Club, prompted me to seek out the movie on Hulu. I was so impressed that I bought the bluray (which I almost never do) so I could share it with others.


Simon Read (1 year ago) Reply

Wumpus, Glad you liked it!

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