Paper Soldier

Paper Soldier


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Some films are not meant to be understood. Their contrasting realities mirror the conflict of life, how to make sense of chaos, how to tune into rationality in a world beyond reason.

In the frozen wastes of Kazakhstan, before Sputnik miraculously made it into the heavens, the Soviets are training cosmonauts for what, at that time, was a dream. Unlike anything you have ever seen from Cape Canaveral, or Apollo 13, this place is as mad as a March hare. Resources appear minimal and technical support primitive and yet across the hazy wilderness, cloaked in chilly mist, a magnificent rocket tears through the clouds, like something from the handbook of the gods.

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Central to the story is Daniel (mesmerising performance from Merab Ninidze), a scientist/doctor/intellectual/melancholic. His brooding demeanour indicates a troubled soul, irresistible to women. Touched by genius there are elements of surreal comedy about him, as if his mind has bypassed the normal barriers of convention, existing in the highest echelons of endeavour, where the language of dreams is more potent than social intercourse. Incapable of emotional commitment, not having the inclination, nor the time, to indulge in romantic games playing, he uses and abuses the three women in his life without fully understanding any of them.

Visually startling and constantly surprising, Paper Soldier is a major work of modern cinema, through which the spirit of Andrei Tarkovsky lives and breathes. Intense close ups are contrasted with lingering exteriors of inexplicable strangeness. What, for instance, is a camel doing on the frozen wastes? There are cows, peasants, dogs, ravens. There is snow. Everywhere there is snow. And young men, prepared to die for the greater good of the USSR. The space race is but a blur in the consciousness of these naive explorers on the cusp of history, cut off from international politics by layers of propaganda, or, in the case of Daniel, a well cut overcoat.

The plot is as elusive as progress. Only after it has passed can you recognise its standing in the scheme of things. From such abstract particles of hope and purpose, Yuri Gagarin is hurled through the brittle air into earth’s orbit only to return, breathless and alive, in a field of stones. This is not about him. It is about the loneliness of the heart’s journey from youthful passion to obsessive creativity.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2009
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Russian cosmonauts train for the Sputnik launch in a frozen wilderness in Kazakhstan.
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Director: Aleksei German Jnr

Writer: Aleksei German Jnr, Vladimir Arkusha

Starring: Merab Ninidze, Chulpan Khamatova, Anastasiya Sheveleva

Year: 2008

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: Russia


EIFF 2009
Russian 2009

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