As my second film of Fantastic Fest, I chose Salyut-7 a Russian film based on the true story about a slice of history in the midst of the space race between Russia and the U.S. I love true stories like this when they come to the big screen because they spark my curiosity about our world history. I found myself researching the actual events after the film and adding some fascinating information to my brain. The way the filmmakers tell the story is remarkable and an important reminder of how a political cold war can push people to extremes. Even though this is my take away, I don’t think this was the message the filmmakers were going for. This is a film that celebrates national pride for Russian and the story is given a resplendent treatment as a triumph.
The film’s jaw-dropping visuals and cinematography are established immediately. Director Klim Shipenko has made a decadent film and the camera work is stunning. I was reminded of Gravity, only because it shares the point of view of Earth’s orbit. However, the cinematography holds a distinctly unique flow and sense of movement that heightens the tension of many of the action sequences and exaggerates the beauty of outer space. Regardless of how one feels about this film overall, nobody could argue that it’s not simply gorgeous.
The plot centers around a real-life mission in 1985 in which two cosmonauts go into orbit to repair a broken space station that has lost power. In the earlier scenes of the film, they establish that meteors have damaged the electrical system and the station has lost power. The U.S. Challenger is just about to launch and one of the U.S. cosmonauts was an original engineer for the Russian station. The Russian government fears that their station is vulnerable to a U.S. seizure in its crippled state and they send a crew in a courageous attempt to repair the station. It’s kind of ridiculous that the U.S. Challenger crew are depicted as potential space pirates. It’s blatant propaganda, but it works to build tension in the story. In true events, this station is repaired many times over the years due to various malfunctions and wear in tear. The filmmakers create a sense the this was a one-time high-stakes endeavor to stay in the space race with America. It’s a cinematic liberty and it’s forgivable.
Once the Russian space center realizes that their space station has gone off line they begin to work on a plan to repair it. The station is stuck in a full rotation as it soars through its orbit and docking the station requires a very talented pilot. Our main character, Vladimir Dzhanibekov, played by Vladimir Vdovichenkov, is a seasoned cosmonaut who had been discharged from the space program for seeing a mysterious light on his last mission. After many other pilots fail to dock the ship in simulations, he is recruited as the only man who has a chance at docking in space. To accompany him, they send a younger flight engineer, Viktor Savinykh, played by Pavel Derevyanko. It’s high-stakes mission, and in the chance that the astronauts fail to repair the station, the government will destroy it before the Americans get a chance to seize it. In retrospect, the framing of the U.S. as the bad guys (kind of) is a bit laughable, but then one has to remember that this was a time of animosity between our two countries. It’s a bit of history that remains relevant today.
The mission is fraught with deliciously tense sequences and breath-taking cinematography. The audience is treated to a wonderful and dramatic adventure. It masterfully hits all the beats of an against-the-odds space quest, complete with pining families waiting on earth, exaggerated odds, and a ground control crew sweating bullets at every turn. It has a fair share of melodrama but navigates it artfully without being heavy handed.
It’s a good story, and its beautifully told. One can easily spot the plot points that were included for cinematic flair and they work to immerse you in the film. Definitely put Salyut-7 on your list as a solid space adventure period piece and let me know what you think!
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The Diva Del Mar
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