Houston, We Have A Problem!


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Houston, We Have a Problem!
"Even when we are ready to dismiss something presented to us as 'scientific' evidence, we are still ready to swallow a lie if it comes with an emotionally satsifying coating." | Photo: Andrej Virc

Žiga Virc makes smoke meet mirrors in his debut film, described as a docu-fiction but with the emphasis surely falling on the latter. It purports to tell the story of the Yugoslav space progamme, which the US thought so successful they bought it for billions, only to find all was not as it seemed. Against this a human story of a scientist who was allegedly spirited away from Yugoslavia to work for NASA, his death faked, his wife left devastated, as he meets up with the daughter he has never seen years later.

"Even if it didn't happen, it's true - and that's the crucial message," says philosopher Slavoj Žižek towards the end of this film, which is interwoven and book-ended by his considerations of what it takes to construct a myth. During these episodes, in which he teases apart the way that a belief is built by both the teller and the person who believes it, he sits in a big easy chair, resplendent in stocking feet within a blank, white space save for an old-fashioned TV - the fakeness of it all a further reminder of how easy it is to manipulate the visual image. Even the exclamation mark at the end of the title, suggests that playfulness lies within.

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There is a wealth of archive footage presented here, often showing Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito in a less than flattering light even though much of the film was probably originally shot for propoganda purposes. It captures the squint-eye and eyerolls he occasionally gave the camera, inviting us to see him as a flawed human rather than major powerbroker. Around this, and with the use of, presumably, constructed historical documents and testimony, Virc's theory begins to take shape. It seems outlandish and yet the craft makes it compelling - which is precisely what the filmmaker is driving at.

Given the ludicrous arguments being made, it's amazing how much the human interest story still - at least initially - convinces, showing that even when we are ready to dismiss something presented to us as 'scientific' evidence, we are still ready to swallow a lie if it comes with an emotionally satsifying coating. This is surely likely to resonate with many British viewers in the wake of the Brexit debate or those in the US watching the rise of Donald Trump.

Virc starts to layer the conspiracy theories one on top of the other, encouraging us to call it fake although the question of how many of the audience will buy the easy route of belief, rather than the more difficult questioning remains. The story itself is simultaneously energetic and entertaining, but many will no doubt feel aggrieved at spending such a long time in the presence of a hoax - even one as amusing and well-crafted as this. Still, the next time you are watching a straightforward documentary or news report, it will make you think about the way you as the consumer should be careful what you eat, however prettily it may be presented.

Reviewed on: 06 Jul 2016
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Houston, We Have A Problem! packshot
Creating the myth of a space-race power deal.

Director: Žiga Virc

Writer: Žiga Virc, Boštjan Virc

Year: 2016

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Slovenia, Croatia, Germany, Czech Republic, Qatar

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