Aelita (1924) Poster

(1924)

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Intriguing Despite Its Flaws
Snow Leopard28 January 2002
Certainly one of the more interesting and unique silent movies that you will see, "Aelita" is well worth watching despite its flaws. It's no masterpiece, but it offers an intriguing and often creative mix of science fiction, melodrama, and history. It also has an interesting story that holds your attention and moves at a pretty good pace. Don't be automatically put off from seeing this film by the fact that everyone mentions the dose of silly Soviet propaganda that comes with the rest of it. It's definitely there, but the political elements are not terribly obtrusive or heavy-handed, although there are a couple of times when they are unintentionally humorous. There are many other themes that are just as prominent, or more so - such as relationships and jealousy, fantasy and reality, real-life concerns versus idealistic projects. The dual settings of Moscow and Mars are used rather well, setting off the differences and similarities between the two societies and relating them to the concerns of the characters. There is a nice contrast between the settings and props in Moscow, which are drab but effective, stressing the pressing concern of everyday matters, and the weird, distinctive Martian sets and costumes. The latter are creative and interesting to look at, and if they are sometimes a bit over-the-top, they are no more so than most cinematic conceptions of other planets. The film's historical setting is also quite interesting in itself. It is set a few years before the movie's release, at a time when Russia was just emerging from the chaos of revolution and civil war. The atmosphere of rebuilding and uncertainty forms an important part of both the plot and the themes of the movie, and it also provides a historical look at an often forgotten era. Most of the cast and characters (at least the ones in Moscow) are believable enough that you want to find out what happens to them amidst all this. You can certainly find plenty of better silent movies or better sci-fi movies than this, but you would find many more that are far worse, and not nearly so distinctive. For the price of putting up with a handful of political blurbs, you get to see an interesting story with some substance and plenty of unusual and creative details.
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8/10
A classic of Soviet silent cinema
Ilya Mauter13 May 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Aelita was the first film made by one of the pioneers of the Russian cinema Yakov Protazanov after his return from Europe, where he remained during difficult times of Russian Civil War of 1918 – 1922. He directed his first silent features before the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and was undoubtedly most prominent Russian filmmaker before Sergey Eisenstein. With Aelita back then young Russian cinema tried to rival foreign European and American productions, a competition that resulted in the big spectacle, which Aelita is with its big production values but obviously propagandistic story, fit in what is basically a Sci-fi film attempting to proliferate communist ideas. In a way it also marked beginning of dominating influence of Communist state with its ideals over the art, in this case cinema, which continued nearly till the end of Soviet Union in 1991. Aelita's story is based on a Sci-fi novel by Alexei Tolstoy, who later became one of the most important Soviet writers though mostly renowned not for Sci-fi stories, but for his historical novels. It's about a young scientist Los, who is living with his wife Natasha and is already for several years is working on a project of a spaceship capable of going to Mars, while on a background of Russian Civil War occurs with all its destruction, hunger and, of cause, accentuated by the communist propaganda class struggle, which is shown in a character of Ehrlich who represents an old kind of persona with its obsolete bourgeoisie values of already dead Tsarist Russia, showed opposed to a 'new man' of adhered to communist ideals soldier of the Red Army Gussev. While all this happens on Earth, we are introduced to the distant world of planet Mars with its monarchic regime, somewhat reminiscent of Egyptian pharaohs or Roman Emperor's rule, where the working class, represented by the slaves, suffers under tyrannical regime of the ruling class. The world, which evidently represents the kind of a world against which Bolsheviks where fighting against. It's from there that Martian princess Aelita observes the life of other characters in Russia and develops a sort of attraction to them and their way of life. The film culminates when finally Los' project is brought to life and expedition is sent to Mars, causing there upon arrival a slave uprising and revolution, which results in no more nor less than in peaking of communist propaganda element in the story in a form of establishing of the Soviet Socialist Republics of Mars! Overall, all the propaganda elements put aside, Aelita is one of the most original classics of not only the Russian, but of the world silent cinema. 8/10
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8/10
Not so much science-fiction as human drama
Igenlode Wordsmith20 July 2010
"Aelita" was screened as part of the National Film Theatre's science fiction season, but I can't help fearing that anyone who came to see it in the expectation of Martian adventures would probably have been very disappointed. (Edit: having read a selection of IMDb reviews, I gather this was all too correct, alas...) It certainly wasn't what I was expecting, but I actually enjoyed it a great deal for what it is: basically, an ordinary domestic drama of life in the undernourished, overcrowded post-war Moscow of 1921, with its black-marketeers, buffoons and ambitious dreamers. Intercut with this are the protagonist's imaginations of a stylised, balletic Mars, where the wilful figurehead Queen becomes fascinated with this alien Earthman she has never met; the more frustrating his day-to-day life becomes, the more he takes refuge in these plans and visions, and finally the two worlds become mingled entirely as he seeks escape in interplanetary flight. The obvious comparisons to make are with Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" and H.G.Wells' "Things to Come"; I have to say that I actually found "Aelita" as visually inventive in its science-fiction sections as either of these -- and considerably more enjoyable. It has the human dimension and the humour that both of the former worthy sagas lack; for example, the soldier Gussev is obliged to turn up at the last minute for blast-off wearing women's clothing, because his wife has locked up his own equipment in an attempt to keep him from making the trip! And it benefits from the well-worn tactic of introducing recognisably contemporary characters into its alien setting to serve as audience identification figures; the dream-structure also allows it to get away with a good deal in the way of events that seem oddly arbitrary or clichéd at the time, while explaining them later. With hindsight I suspect that some of the revolutionary grandiloquence we laughed at was actually intended to be ridiculous (Protazanov had been a successful pre-revolutionary director who had only just been induced to return to Soviet Russia, and there is a striking sequence in "Aelita" where characters hark back wistfully to the 'old days'): the film has a good Soviet moral, but not the one you are led to expect, and it knows how to deflate the bubble of wild fantasy. Nikolai Tsereteli and Vera Kuindzhi make an attractive and sensitive leading couple as the engineer and his wife, although the latter suffers from the limitations of the orthochromatic film stock of this era which tends to bleach out blue eyes altogether, to occasionally grotesque effect. Pavel Pol is also impressive as Erlich, the agreeable con-man who is billeted on the couple, while Igor Ilyinsky and Nikolai Batalov provide comic relief without becoming tedious. The space technology shown has a definite air of Jules Verne, but take-off is effectively suggested using blurring camera views rather than extensive model work, and the characters stumble from their ship on landing in a convincing (and concealing) cloud of dust -- although there is an impressive fiery splashdown in the alien city. The Martian interior settings are deliberately conceived in theatrical terms, with the Martian characters moving in balletic mime that contrasts with the down-to-earth approach of the humans when they arrive, and there are some eerie scenes of the comatose workers being stacked for storage; the overseers with whips, on the other hand, are rather crudely prosaic. Some of the intertitles in the Martian sections come across as rather stilted, although it's hard to known how much of this is a problem with translation from what is presumably high-flown Russian. I did wonder if there were intertitles missing earlier on, as at some points the transitions seemed extremely abrupt. For this performance a minimalist live accompaniment was provided by the appropriately named group Minima in a modern idiom which worked surprisingly well not only with the visions of Mars but with the 1920s Moscow setting. For my own part, even at the moments when I felt that the film really had gone too far for credibility I still found myself well-disposed towards it as a whole; when it subsequently proved to unwind itself to a neat conclusion, I felt pleasantly vindicated. I had heard that despite the subsequent 'socialist realist' image, much silent Soviet 'domestic' drama is in fact very good, and on the basis of this film this genre definitely seems worth a look. Lovers of ray-guns (although these do figure) and space adventure, on the other hand, will probably feel short-changed -- as, apparently, did the original critics, although I'm glad to say that this did not prevent the film from being a box-office smash at the time!
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7/10
Interesting, but the story is too sloppy
zetes24 August 2003
Bizarre Russian sci-fi, socialist silent about a scientist who builds a rocketship, flies to Mars, and leads the Martian proletariat in a communist revolution. Or at least that's what I've always heard that that was what Aelita was about. In reality, this part of the plot only takes up about fifteen minutes of this 111 minute film. Most of it takes place on Earth, where a scientist, Los, suffers the infidelities and hedonism of his wife. He watches her with scorn as their philandering neighbor feeds her pieces of chocolate. This movie may hold the record for having the most unnecessary subplots. There's a man who is training to be a spy/private detective/undercover policeman (the professions seem kind of mixed up) and then there's a soldier who has had much experience `winning over' neighboring lands to the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, on Mars, curious Queen Aelita is wasting the planet's energy supply by using a newly invented telescope to watch Earthlings. She falls in love with the scientist. The movie is mainly valuable for the early science fiction settings. The filmmakers do a very good job with the art design on Mars. Of course everything looks very silly and impractical, but it's always amusing. Some of the sets and costumes are more imaginative than anything in Metropolis. Of course, Prozanov isn't anywhere near the talent Lang was, and most of the time the images are haphazardly composed. The Earth sequences, which take up the vast majority of the film, are not too bad, to tell you the truth. In fact, the story is pretty good. It certainly needed to be cleaned up a lot, especially so we might understand why the side characters exist in the first place (it makes more sense when they get to Mars, ¾ of the way through the picture). The acting is quite excellent. I thought the Martians were particularly well cast. I was actually quite enjoying Aelita: Queen of Mars, but the cop-out ending is rather bothersome. It's worth seeing, but it might be helpful to know beforehand that it's going to fall apart completely by the end. 7/10.
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7/10
What more do you want?
Emil Bakkum25 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Russian films from the era of Leninism, before the fall of the wall, continue to fascinate me. For that reason I bought the DVD Aelita, without really knowing the plot. At the time, IMDb was still a big unknown. How dumb can you be? Luckily, I gambled right, because Aelita is quite charming (although she appears to have three breasts). Let me give some, hopefully appetizing, comments. The film is produced during the first years of the Russian revolution, when there is some idealism left, and the Stalinist terror, dogmatism and censorship are yet in their infancy. The film even dares to advocate some freedom of speech. A second advantage is the absence of the adamant (= the very first insect) realism, that prevails in the documentary but terrible plots of Eisenstein (Strike, Potemkin). In fact the narrative is fairly subtle and multi-layered, with a realistic layer, a dramatic layer, and a fairy tale. In my humble opinion the realistic part is the most interesting. We witness the rising Soviet society, just after the civil war has essentially come to a conclusion. The soldiers return home, and life again takes its normal course. The Leninists and Soviet leaders begin to organize their new society. The planning starts with the distribution among the people of the production, for the time being in kind. It is still a diet, meaning die with a t, with insufficient proteins, meaning in favor of young people. The housing is reorganized, and the common people are lodged in the former gentleman's houses. It reminds of this other giant epos, Doctor Zhivago. The bourgeois and nobility are ostracized (reduced to the size of an ostrich), and mourn their lost wealth. In secret they try to continue their old way of living. Some of these former rich become engaged in illegal and even criminal activities. Money is not everything, but it keeps the kids in touch. Fortunately the main characters of Aelita are decent workers and engineers. The dramatic part shows the consequences of jealousy in a workers marriage. I am not an expert on the subject, but I suppose that this part intends to describe the evils of the bourgeois life style and morals. Eventually we learn, that this sad story line only exists in the imagination of our sympathetic "hero". Leninism is the catalyst (names of cows written in alphabetical order) of cooperation, honesty and trust. Finally, the fairy tale part is a parable of the proletarian revolution, but in an imaginary world. Here the revolution of the workers is led by a king, a bit like in "Metropolis" - indeed Aelita does not excel in originality. Since the workers do not make their own revolution, they become the victim of a bourgeois betrayal - unlike the Metropolis plot. They are just instrumental in a regime change in the bourgeois system itself. Obviously this is meant to be an arraignment (stormy weather). Fortunately in the end the main characters are lucky enough to find themselves back in the real Soviet world, miserable though it may be. What more do you want from a Leninist film? If you prefer modern versions of the Leninist ideology, I recommend "The Garage" or "Moscow doesn't believe in tears". In addition many of my reviews concern Leninist films from East-Germany. Oh and unless you are totally bored, don't forget to check off "useful: yes".
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7/10
This is a historically interesting film with many subplots.
pontifikator29 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Yakov ProtazanovDirected by Yakov Protazanov, who led an interesting life, when interesting lives meant death. Protazanov directed many films from 1911 through 1918, and was acclaimed by many as a genius. Some background in Soviet history helps set the scene for "Aelita." It was in a series of revolts in 1917 that the Tsars were overthrown and replaced by a provisional government. The Tsarist army had suffered setbacks and losses in World War I, and it was not capable of supporting the Tsar. The Tsar was deposed in February of 1917. (Or March. The tsars used the Gregorian calendar, and the soviets used the Julian calendar.) The October Revolution is usually dated to have occurred on October 25, 1917, a date you will see emblazoned in fire during the screening of "Aelita." The October Revolution overthrew the Russian Provisional Government which was set in place following the February Revolution. (The western world may know the October Revolution as the Bolshevik Revolution.) During the years from about 1918 through 1922, there was continual combat in the country as the White Russian army fought the Bolsheviks for power and control of the country. This is referred to as the Russian Civil War, and it led to the formation of the Soviet Union. It was during the period of the Russian Civil War that Protazanov was exiled or self-exiled, depending on who tells the tale, in Europe. He was persuaded to return to the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1923, and he directed "Aelita: Queen of Mars" which is probably the first soviet movie and may be the first soviet science fiction film as well. "Aelita" is a propaganda film, as all good soviet films are. However, it shows us life in the Soviet Union rather starkly, and it recounts life there as a struggle not only to survive but to be good communists as well. I'm somewhat surprised at the reality of life shown: abject poverty, horrible crowding and population dislocation, state control of who lives in your house (even in what rooms), rationing, and the like. I think part of the purpose of "Aelita" is to warn state bureaucrats not to turn to corruption, as a corrupt official is shown being investigated for his crimes. I would say the foundation of "Aelita" is showing the daily lives of regular people after the Russian Civil War as they try to rebuild the country into the Soviet Union, as seen by Lenin and the Communist Party. One of the regular people is named Los or Loss, depending on the translation of Лось, who is an engineer. Los daydreams of space travel, and his co-workers put up with him good-naturedly. A radio broadcast is received throughout the world with a cryptic message, and Los foolishly believes it's a transmission from Mars. He fantasizes about building a rocket ship and going to Mars, and he fantasizes what Martians are like. Meanwhile, back on earth, his wife works at what is referred to as a check point, processing travelers who are going from nowhere to another nowhere on crowded trains at crowded stations. A party bureaucrat is put into the home where Los and his wife live. The bureaucrat sweet talks Mrs. Los, and the engineer gets jealous. His fantasies of Mars include fantastic sets and fantastic costumes, with an attractive Queen of Mars who wears a fantasy top which seems to support three breasts. In his fantasy, the queen can see earth and in fact sees him and is intrigued. However, although she reigns, she does not rule, and she is ordered to stop spying on earth. After many, many twists and turns of plot, our hero finally takes off from earth and lands on Mars, where he leads a revolution. One of the faults of "Aelita" is its many subplots, and they take up a significant amount of time, leading to a movie that nears two hours in length. The Martian fantasies take up a very small portion of the movie, so I'm not willing to call it truly a sci-fi movie, but the alien life is certainly a major plot point. The thrust of "Aelita" is that the soviet life-style is best on earth and off and that we should stop our daydreaming and get some real work done. The Martian segments are metaphorically about life under the tsars with literal throwing off of chains and escape from serfdom. The propaganda is there, but it's not heavy handed. The movie is too long, too convoluted with subplots, but it remains interesting as a picture of life after the Russian Civil War. Nikolai Tsereteli is Los, Yuliya Solntseva plays the queen of his dreams, and Valentina Kuindzhi plays Natasha Los, his wife in the all too real world of 1924 Soviet Union. As an aside, although the movie took place over the course of a year, the city where the action occurred remained bitterly cold and snow-covered through out the movie. The Martian sets and costumes get some kidding today, so you may find it worthwhile to watch and compare to "Metropolis," "Buck Rogers" (the Buster Crabbe version), and maybe "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari."
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9/10
Dialogue Between Two Worlds
Ilpo Hirvonen20 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Science fiction is a genre just as old as film itself and its history extends to the year of 1902 when Georges Melies made the first fantasy film, A Trip to the Moon. He's often considered as the father of fantasy but not necessarily of science fiction. The first actual sci-fi pictures were made in 1920's, and Aelita was the very first one. Yakov Protazanov was one of the many Soviet artists who returned to their home country after The New Economic Policy, which gave more freedom to them and entrepreneurs. His first film on this "emigrant" era was Aelita. A science fiction which might seem like a dull fantasy film on the surface but from which many depths and layers can be found. It's an excellent satirical depiction of the world in 1924. A film strictly tied to its own time is also paradoxically extremely timeless: the thought of escaping one's marital problems to Mars isn't a distant idea for many of us. An engineer, living in Moscow, is dissatisfied with his life and starts planning a machine that would take him to Mars -- inspired by a series of mysterious radio signals from outer space. He suspects his wife for having an affair, shoots her, travels to Mars with a jolly Red Army soldier and followed by a policeman. In Mars the engineer falls in love with Aelita, a Marsian beauty, who decides to join them. They succeed in stirring up a socialistic revolt but get betrayed and thrown into jail. In the end everything turns out to be just a dream and a reflection of the engineer's family problems -- the Marsians also had a machine through which they could observe the Earth. Even his wife turns out to be unharmed and loyal. The film is based on a science fiction by Aleksei Tolstoy, and according to the Soviet Film Foundation the film's disloyalty for the original novel reduces its artistic value. Aelita's visual luminosity of cubist setting entitled it for its huge international success which the film received more than any earlier Soviet film, before the enormous appreciation of Battleship Potemkin. The film attains a gorgeous picture of Soviet Union, and the world, and how it was like in the year of 1924. The frame-story, which equals most of the film, builds a great picture of the Soviet society: full trains, a decadent night club, and the new culture; posters, agitprop (Department for Agitation and Propaganda) elements and the orphanage in which the engineer's wife works at. References of things to come are a part of it which already foreshadow Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927): workers oppressed to the status of slaves beneath the ground, the destruction mechanism in which bodies are dropped down from a conveyor belt. The most interesting thing in Aelita is its satirical grip of modern time, the film's own time: the NEP-season. It was an economic policy proposed by Vladimir Lenin, who called it state capitalism. It tried to give more freedom to entrepreneurs in order to revive the country, but just as usually it led to relentless incontinence. Aelita summarizes what life was like during the NEP, about which Ian Christie has written so brilliantly that I don't even bother trying my luck: "idealism and opportunism were blooming, a political situation turns into the dramatic and ideological central of the film." The portrayal of Soviet everyday life and the world in general is extremely fascinating in Aelita; socialism is just a dream, an unreachable utopia? The new, noble and not-so-great, world was just as stirring and confusing to Protazanov as the Mars-sequences. The film also shows the Earth seen from another planet and conducts a dialogue between these two worlds. The mysterious radio messages and fantasies of an alien planet were just as weird and fantasy-like, for a Soviet viewer, as the outside world -- Soviet Union was incredibly isolated during the 1920's. This is why a director, who had just returned to his home country, was entitled to depict and research this outside world. He had the qualifications to create a futuristic world from whose perspective our's was enchanting -- pure science fiction.
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A visually-interesting "satura" (mish-mosh).
'Lich9 March 1999
_Aelita: Queen of Mars_ is a visually-interesting satura ("mish-mosh," "stew"), bringing together soap opera, political drama, romantic comedy, crime-drama + farce, science fantasy, and, finally dream-vision. The sequences set on Earth tell some rather, well, mundane stories of jealousy and political corruption, interesting for being set in Moscow during the hungry years around 1924 and having the villain a minor Soviet official. (Caution, though: the villain's name is spelled "Erlich" in the titles on the Kino re-issue of the film. If that is a correct rendering, that's the Yiddish word for "righteous" and a Jewish name, so Comrade Erlich may be oddly Jewish--if aristocratic _and_ Bolshevik--and the film engaging in some old-fashioned Russian antisemitism [where confused categories aren't surprising]. If the name is "Ehrlich," Comrade Minor Official may be of German descent and the film more newfangled in trashing insufficiently Russified German-Soviets [who are also aristocrats and Bosheviks].) The scenes on Mars are much more interesting, visually. As David A. Cook states in his _History of Narrative Film_ (a standard film-course text), the Martian sets are "designed completely in the Constructivist style." They follow the principles of Vsevelod Meyerhold in trying to create "a machine for acting": which works here in producing a futuristic vision that was to go on to the FLASH GORDON series and other visually classic works of High Modernism. There's also imagery of a Mechanized Underworld and Mechanical Hive: ideas that don't go back beyond H. G. Wells's _Time Machine_ (1895) and _First Men in the Moon_ (1901) and E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" (1909)--and visual and thematic possibilities that were going to go on to works from Fritz Lang's _Metropolis_ (1926) to George Lucas's _THX-1138_ (1971) and beyond. And there's a revolution on Mars, which is something neither Lang nor Lucas could/would pull off. Ideologically, _Aelita_ is about as sophisticated as _Birth of a Nation_ or _Metropolis_ or _Gone with the Wind_, and less offensive (even to a viewer named "Erlich"). It should be seen for the same reason as we see _Wizard of Oz_ and _Dune_: to see the visuals. Just Fast-Forward through the dumb parts, in all of them.
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5/10
Film firmly suggests people should be more realistic than idealistic
jennyhor20042 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Most current interest in this 1920s Soviet silent movie focuses on its sci-fi sub-plot of a trip that three Earthmen make to Mars where they are promptly embroiled in Martian politics and one of them, a revolutionary called Gusev (Nikolai Batalov), inspires the oppressed Martian workers to rebel against their despotic king and replace him with his daughter who is equally tyrannical. This sub-plot is part of a broad melodrama about an engineer called Los (Nikolai Tsereteli) who fluctuates between an erotic fantasy life revolving around an exotic aristocrat woman who worships him from afar and his real life in which his wife Natasha (Valentina Kuindzhi), neglected by him, has an affair with a rich foreigner, Ehrlich (Pavel Pol). Los's fantasy about the woman Aelita (Yulia Solntseva) begins when he and his colleague Spiridonov (Tsereteli again) receive mysterious radio transmissions from afar which can't be translated into Russian and someone in their department jokingly suggests the messages might be from Mars. Mars is a place where rich folks like Aelita and her dad King Tuskub (Konstantin Eggert) can spy on the affairs of other planets on a special TV made of geometric shapes and squiggly wires powered by Martian planetary energy harnessed by Gor (Yuri Zavadsky), the planet's chief scientist and guardian of radiant energy. Poor Martian folks on the other hand must labour in the labyrinthine dungeons of Mars and there's a rotating roster in which one-third of the workforce goes to sleep in deep freeze chambers when the available work dwindles. Good thing the capitalists on Earth never heard of that idea! Most of the movie's running time flits from Los's work ,which among other things involves volunteer work on an engineering project in the Soviet Far East and in his spare time constructing a spaceship capable of flying to Mars with Spiridonov, to Natasha working at a refugee centre, then an orphanage, and flirting with Ehrlich, to other sub-plots which include Gusev's on-again/off-again relationship with his wife and an investigation of Natasha's shotgun murder by the comically inept detective Kravtsov (Igor Ilyinsky). There is also a sub-plot that focuses on one man's attempt to cheat on the food-rationing system used in Moscow which calls audiences' attention to the economic and social plight of ordinary people in Russia at the time the film was made. All this means that "Aelita " can be a bewildering experience for first-time viewers unfamiliar with the immediate post-1917 situation in the Soviet Union before Joseph Stalin came to power in the mid-1920′s. Repeating viewings and a foreknowledge of the film's plot and themes will be necessary for some viewers to understand and tease out the various sub-plots. Several sub-plots are Los's daydreams which the film deliberately doesn't separate from what happens to the engineer in real life so the narrative, and in particular the ending, can be very confusing to watch. A pro-Communist / anti-capitalist message is present in the movie but director Protazanov's treatment of it is very ambiguous: Gusev has second thoughts about allowing Aelita to assume leadership of the Martian proletariat and his fears are well-founded. This particular moment in the film serves perhaps as a warning of what could happen to the Soviet government, that it might fall into a similar autocratic style of government as the previous Tsarist government: a prophetic message indeed. Los realises his fantasy about Aelita comes to nothing but chaos, which might make viewers wonder whether it really is a fantasy that he has or something that actually happened to him. Fantasy women who hero-worship you don't usually try to co-opt you into their own nefarious schemes, do they? He decides that his goal in life is to be with Natasha, who miraculously is alive despite having been shot at close range multiple times earlier in the film, and work with her for the reconstruction of their country. Natasha for her part is willing to return to Los and give up Ehrlich. The film's message is that inner psychological rebirth is as important as political, social and economic rebirth if people are to co-operate and fulfill the goals of socialist revolution. Fantasising about flying to Mars as a way of escaping humdrum reality and the work involved in maintaining a marriage (and by extension, maintaining a community, especially a new revolutionary community) certainly won't help to bring about equality and prosperity for everyone. The film's production values are very impressive: in particular the Martian sets, influenced by the Russian avantgarde art movement Constructivism with its emphasis on abstract geometric shapes and figures, look very futuristic and in some scenes are monumental. The make-up and costume design for the actors playing the Martians are similarly abstract and angular though the headgear looks comic. The style of acting varies in keeping with the plot and themes: generally the Earthlings move and act in a natural way while the Martians, lacking human emotion, have a stilted and robotic style of behaving. Aelita especially seems a child-like and petulant aristocrat compared to proletarian Natasha who is portrayed as a warm and caring, if rather flighty, young woman. The editing helps here too, cutting from Aelita at her leisure watching Los on her TV or lounging about to Natasha cooking stew and scrubbing wet clothes. Hmm, what does it say about Los and his attitude towards women and social class that Aelita is a naive fantasy ideal that turns dangerous and has to be killed off while the neglected Natasha is ready to offer him love and support if only he would pay more attention to her and their marriage? Ultimately for most people the main value of "Aelita " will be in its sets and design but for students of propaganda and Soviet history, the film has a great deal to say about the difference between fantasy and reality. The lesson is aimed as much at idealists and would-be revolutionaries as for those still wedded to capitalist ways of thinking.
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9/10
A futurist masterpiece
alexmatte8 November 2006
A remarkable film from 1924, of immense historical interest. See the turbulence of Russia as it was just a few years after the 1917 revolution and the subsequent war 1918-21 against the foreign-backed White Army. But see it all in the context of a most amazing futurist film, at least the equal of the other two equivalent futurist greats from Germany and Britain - Metropolis (1927) and High Treason (1928), respectively. Arguably it is the best of the three, with avant garde sets and costumes that could have come straight out of the Bauhaus' choreography workshop. The version shown on Australian TV had a presumably later added music score that was just so perfect and integrated to the film's plot and visuals that it could not possibly have been better had it been original. It had a mesmerising robotic, minimalist, mechanical and repetitive character that was simply made for a futurist and surreal film like this. The cyrillic characters of the silent narration only add (for us Westerners, at least) to the mystery and surreality of the whole story, and one can only feel sorry for those who, after all this tour-de-force, feel shortchanged from an unfulfilled need for a more banal storyline. Or aggrieved by the perception of the film as mere propaganda. There's always reruns of Rambo and The Green Berets for you, fellers! It's a pity most cinephiles are oblivious to the existence of this film, as wider availability and screening would ensure its fame as one of the greatest silent, futurist and early modern films.
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