“If science fiction is fueled by a sense of wonder, in cinema the genre has taken on a special power, going as far back as Georges Méliès‘s A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la lune, 1902),” writes Kristin M. Jones in the Wall Street Journal. “Strange Lands: International Sci-Fi, a retrospective of 11 features and one short from various countries opening [today] at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center, is an artfully eclectic journey across psychic terrain as well as geopolitical boundaries. Travel, nomadism or a sense of being unmoored in the present are themes in many of the films, which span the late 1950s to the late 1980s and include underappreciated works worthy of rediscovery.”
In the New York Times, Eric Hynes notes that the series “runs the gamut from space-age sex farce to dystopian nightmare and travels to such lost worlds as Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. These Cold War rarities do more than serve as kitschy time capsules, they represent traditions of sci-fi filmmaking as storied, if not as well budgeted, as Hollywood’s. The series wanders throughout Europe, but is tellingly weighted toward the former Soviet bloc. With its bent toward theoretical worlds and systems, the genre lent itself extremely well to expressions of socialist utopia, especially after the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first person to orbit Earth, fueled dreams of a Communist galaxy. Such tales often involved assorted comrades banding together to solve interplanetary conundrums, invariably sacrificing self for the sake of society and the universe.”
“Curated by Film Comment’s senior editor Nicolas Rapold, all but one of the films is a 35mm print,” adds Jordan Hoffman for the Guardian. “My favorite pairing is probably the two from East Germany, Gottfried Kolditz’s 1976 In the Dust of Stars with Herrmann Zscoche’s Eolomea . While the two share some production aspects (those fabulous costumes!) they couldn’t be more different in tone. Dust, which has a bit of an early Star Trek vibe, follows a ship of exploration to a peculiar and ultimately dangerous planet, and as such dips its toe in a bit of pulpy whiz-bang camp. But the strong female captain and her down-to-party crew eventually make a stand for workers’ rights, despite the many passed aerosol cans that give everyone the giggles. Eolomea is far more serious, showing us a spacefaring future Earth that can conquer the stars, but can’t conquer bureaucracy.”
In the Voice, Alan Scherstuhl highlights The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1958): “Picture-book wonders parade throughout this don’t-miss 1958 live action-meets-animation Czech lulu: Relish the airships, shipwrecks, shark attacks, seahorses, undersea bicycles, and gentleman balloonists of director Karel Zeman’s adaptation/mash-up of Jules Verne novels.”
Film Comment has posted Lucas Neves and Violet Lucca‘s interview with Aleksandr Sokurov, whose Days of Eclipse (1988) screens tonight, and the first part of Max Nelson‘s outstanding preview of the series. The films covered here are Edward Zebrowski’s Hospital of the Transfiguration (1979), Piotr Szulkin’s Golem (1980), The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, Jan Schmidt’s The End of August at the Hotel Ozone (1967) and Emidio Greco’s Morel’s Invention (1974).
Updates, 8/23: From Vadim Rizov at Filmmaker: “The Strugatsky brothers novel upon which Alexander Sokurov’s 1988 Days of Eclipse is based has the following fairly mind-blowing premise: a group of scientists in Moscow find their research in various fields frustrated by inexplicable events, and conclude that the universe is deliberately sabotaging them in an attempt to preserve its mysteries. Sokurov’s film has plenty of the inexplicable but none of this throughline—it’s parsable only with difficulty and guidance from external sources.” And “it seems as modern, alienating, and UFOish as it must have in 1988, its innovations unassimiliated, and it’s must-see viewing.”
At the L, Mark Asch has put together a YouTube playlist for the series: clips and trailers, one of them fan-made.
Update, 8/29: Henry Stewart for the L on Emidio Greco’s Morel’s Invention: “Adolfo Bioy Casares’s source novel is a fascinating bit of film theory masquerading as sci-fi, influential from Last Year at Marienbad to Lost. Like the latter, book and film start with a man marooned on a mysterious island crowded with Others, only they don’t give a shit he’s there—they’re (spoiler!) recorded images, projected in tactile 3D…. It’s about cinema’s potential to immortalize both love and people, but also the Tragedy of the Audience: namely, its incurable perishability.”