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Ukroshcheniye ognya (1972)
History of Russian space program.
Biopic about the top-secret Russian rocket designer Sergei Korolev (b. 1906 - d. 1966) was released 6 years after Korolev's death, still the Soviet censorship disallowed his real name. Supporting characters are also based on real people, but their names were top secret in the Soviet Union. Today astronautics.com reveals some of the real names and accurate original cast from the German premiere booklet. Soviet censorship pressured the filmmakers by ordering many scenes to be deleted, so the storyline was altered several times.
The film's release was planned on April 12, 1971, the 10th anniversary of Gagarin's flight, but the film was censored. It was buthchered several times until it was seen by the Defence Minister Ustinov and General Secretary Brezhnev, which led to further censorship related to rocket science and politics. What's left of the original film today is a patchwork of scenes about rocket launches, technical discussions mixed with politics, and a fictitious love story. Paranoia of the Cold War is shown in scenes with nervous discussions about the arms race. Filming locations were top secret in the Soviet Union, such as the Baykonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and the Gagarin Space Center near Moscow. The Soviet Red Army guarded the secrets of rocket science technology, so several scenes where actors did a good job with rocket equipment were deleted.
Filmmakers expressed regrets that several beautiful scenes on location at Baykonur Cosmodrome were deleted by the Soviet censorship. The original director's cut lost many scenes before it was cleared for public release in April 1972. While the original director's cut ran almost four hours, the released version was reduced down to two and a half hours. Director Khrabrovitsky was under pressure from Soviet leaders who guarded their secrets. Before the reduced version was released to public, I was at the private showing, where director Khrabrovitsky presented the director's cut to the cast and crew: it was a longer version of the film, that is unavailable today. I still remember vividly my impressions from meeting the actors who portrayed historic characters. Filmmakers were half happy: after some rough censorship and delays, the film was finally allowed for public release albeit in a reduced version.
The film's time-line spans from the first experimental rockets in the 1920s, to the Katyusha in WWII, to the launch of Sputnik in 1957, and the flight of Gagarin, the first man in space, in 1961. The scenes of the ill-fated Soviet Moon program were censored. But in 1969, American astronauts walked on the Moon, and two more landed there in 1971, leaving the Soviets behind. Then the Soviet leadership released this film, where space race and arms race are shown from the Soviet side. Stalin and the nuclear scientist Kurchatov are portrayed with careful exaggeration, as well as historic figures of Tsiolkovsky and Gagarin. The fictitious parallel story of the main character's wife has no chemistry, while his mother's story is nice. Cinematography with two cameras is impressive, and the music score by Andrei Petrov is memorable. Director Khrabrovitsky works with some of the finest Russian actors, such as Lavrov, Smoktunovsky, Popov, Gorbachyov, Kuznetsova and Gerdt among others. Lavrov's range and nuanced acting is arguably the best in his entire career.
Part of the art of film-making is about editing the truth cleverly in order to improve the story. This film was a work of art before it was butchered by the Soviet censorship.