Sputnik (2020)
August 13, 2020 9:33 PM - Subscribe

In 1983, a cosmonaut is involved in an incident in space and crash-lands back to the Soviet Union. A nervy psychiatrist (Oksana Akinshina, Lilya 4-ever) is recruited to help him recover from his amnesia about the incident in this sci-fi horror movie.

Originally scheduled to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, this is now available to stream in the US via Google Play and iTunes and has gotten generally favorable reviews.

The "sputnik" of the title refers to its meaning in Russian, "companion," rather than (directly) to the 1957 satellite of the same name.
posted by whir (5 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just found it on Amazon Video in the UK!
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 5:02 AM on August 14, 2020

I just watched it (on amazon US.) Perhaps not an instant classic, but still an extremely thoughtful, well made film; it's obviously better than anything I've been consuming in my current diet of netflix and hbo catalog this year. It's billed by some as a kind of Russian Alien, but except for the featuring of a (spoiler!) parasitic space alien, the comparison is not apt. Sputnik is at heart an intellectual meditation on certain psychological and moral themes: what are courage and heroism? when is self-sacrifice called for? how do a medical doctor's and a military man's mindset and sense of obligations differ? It's not as thorough and transcendental in exploration of its themes as classic Russian sci-fi films Stalker or Solaris are of theirs. But, again, does really very well and is much more interesting to watch than a typical space monster horror film. And the concept behind the basic alien-human interaction that these meditations are built upon is not one I've encountered elsewhere. The performance of the female lead is particularly subtle and effective in presenting her (spoiler!) character's arc from therapeutic detachment to engagement. As a bonus I also wonder if its take on authority has a particular edge to it for a contemporary Russian audience.
posted by bertran at 1:28 AM on August 22, 2020

I've seen it described as 'Alien but with the style and atmosphere of HBO's Chernobyl', which does give a flavour of it but, as bertran says, Alien isn't really that apt a comparison. If anything, it's closer in concept to the classic British sf series The Quatermass Experiment.

It struck me after watching it that everyone Klimova deals with lies to her. The initial lie of omission is forgivable (Semiradov presumably wanting her initial opinion of Veshnyakov to be uncontaminated by knowledge of what's really going on) but from then on she has to pry the truth from everyone: Rigel, about the truth with what is really happening overnight; Semiradov, that controlling and weaponising the alien is the true goal, and Veshnyakov himself about the real extent of his knowledge of what has happened to him.

One little detail that amused me was that the dates on the security camera screens suggested that the events we see take place in early November 1983. This is also the timeframe for the final couple of episodes of Deutschland 83 (the NATO 'Able Archer' exercise) and the events of Season 1 of Stranger Things. This presumably explains why Semiradov can get away with so much, as everyone in Moscow is too preoccupied to check up on him. Any connection between the alien and the Upside Down I leave to wider speculation...
posted by Major Clanger at 7:29 AM on August 22, 2020

I guess the American sci-fi movie to compare it to is Arrival. Beyond somewhat similar tone and pacing, both are stories of a free-thinking female scientific specialist called in by the military to help in their task of understanding a space alien. Only unlike in Arrival, in Sputnik the space alien is (mostly) rather nasty and the military nastier still in their aims and methods. One might say somewhat abstractly that Sputnik is about the difficulties of the aspiration to be a decent person in a cruelly not-so-decent workplace/society.

I also want to add to my previous comment that even if one doesn't care much for philosophical themes in sci-fi Major Clanger reminds me that the well thought out and executed plot of this movie is pretty satisfying in itself. The final twist concerning the side plot of the orphanage and the cosmonaut's daughter where we have to revise our assumptions about who the orphan is we have been shown thus far is characteristic of the film as a whole where the narrative understatedly extends itself in unexpected but increasingly meaningful ways as the film goes on.
posted by bertran at 2:48 AM on August 23, 2020

One thing I liked about this was the continuing theme of deception. The fact that Veshnyakov knows exactly what is happening the entire time but fails to do anything about it in order to save his own skin seems like a particularly apt metaphor for life in the Soviet system (maybe a little too obvious even, but I thought it worked well).

I wasn't crazy about the end of the movie--not really sure what General Semiradov's plan was there, but it didn't seem well thought out--but overall I thought this was a pretty solid little sci-fi thriller.
posted by whir at 6:57 AM on August 24, 2020

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