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ANIARA ****

Directed by Pella Kagerman & Hugo Lilja. Starring Emelie Jonsson, Bianca Cruzeiro, Arvin Kananian

Science-Fiction, Sweden, 106 minutes, cert ?

Reviewed at the Edinburgh Film Festival.

In cinemas from 30th August 2019 from Arrow Films.

 

Based on what is described in the opening credits as “A Space Esos” by poet Harry Martinson, Aniara takes a high concept that would not be out of place in a Roland Emmerich disaster flick and views it through a doom laden Tarkovsky like lens. When the vast spacecraft Aniara departs for Mars containing hundreds of passengers fleeing a now irradiated Earth veers off its planned course, directors and writers Kagerman and Lilja gift the viewer with a haunting and often grim vision that offers as much in the way of commentary on human nature and its destructive impulses as it does in displaying slick, futuristic, widescreen visuals.

 

 The films disaster tropes are dealt with quickly and in a matter of fact manner, letting the viewer and the considerable cast of characters try to come to grips with their impossible situation. There are no heroes here who step up to come to the rescue. With the slim chance of using an orbital manoeuvre to get them back on course in the near future the passengers and crew manage to distract themselves with such leisurely pursuits as shopping, dancing and screwing the days away. Our protagonist Mima, Emelie Jonsson, tends to her own Mimarobe system, a once sparsely attended VR space that now attracts a near religious gathering looking for solace in the memories of their abandoned homeworld.

 

 The imagery of these VR obsessed passengers lying face down on the ground evokes head in the sand comparisons that could be applied to large swathes of today’s tech obsessed society. As mentioned before there are no hero figures here, instead the film presents a Lord of the Flies like scenario that trades in the cynical side of human nature that often gives into its darker impulses. This dark vision is further implemented by the ship’s captain Chefone, Arvin Kananian, an authority figure whose brave and calm nature soon gives way to a brutal, totalitarian streak.

 

 The grim narrative/social commentary is often alleviated by several instances of haunting imagery and a pace that refuses to dwell too long and packs a lot into its less than two hour running time. One shot of a sun worshipping and blinded cult’s procession down a hotel like hallway lingers long in the memory. However, the films atmosphere may prove too oppressive for some, especially with its seemingly pessimistic attitude to humanity and sometimes explicit imagery. The attitude, timescale and visuals sometimes recall Clare Denis’s recent High Life but this takes a more immediate and vital approach to its narrative and characters.

 

 Some viewers may also take issue with some aspects of the story; surely several lifeboats or some other escape measure would be provided on such a vessel and one female character after a couple of intriguing developments vanishes altogether from the narrative halfway through the film. As compelling and sympathetic as Mima is the complete opposite can be said of her love interest Isagel, Bianca Cruzeiro, a female pilot whose detachment offers no emotional identity or interest for anyone to cling onto.

 

 For genre fans however this is large scale, intelligent, idea driven science-fiction that is rarely attempted on the cinema screen. The craft of Aniara itself is one of those large spacecrafts that you could dwell on endlessly in the imagination like the Nostromo or Valley Forge as it travels through the galaxy but you definitely would not want to step on board if the opportunity presented itself. This dark vision deserves to be experienced but from an Earthbound perspective that will make you grateful for the home comforts and vast potential we may yet achieve on this spinning rock we call home.

 

Iain MacLeod

 

 

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