Achtung! Halt! Appellate Judge James A. Stewart has sworn off reviews of East German sci-fi DVDs—at least until there are more East German sci-fi DVDs to review.
"Is this film a love story?…Is this a nature film?…Or perhaps a thriller?…It's the new utopian film by DEFA."—from the trailer
As the movie opens, Daniel Lagny (Ivan Andonov) walks through a cacti-laden path to the beach, where he drops his sack and plunges into the water, still fully dressed. "Luna 3, where are you guys?" he screams.
After a title sequence of psychedelia mixed with shots of a stunning starscape, we get to the plot: Six small spaceships have disappeared around base Margot. The Committee is not pleased, and wants to suspend flights in the area until the mystery is resolved. Professor Tal (Rolf Hoppe) suggests that the ships have been annihilated, then facetiously adds, "Please note in our minutes that the council isn't responsible." This is a bit too flip for Prof. Maria Scholl (Cox Habbema), who suspects him of hiding something, especially since his daughter was on board one of those ships—and news of two other lost ships arrives during the Committee meeting.
Moving on, we catch up to Daniel. He's been reassigned to a distant outpost, where he occasionally flies a galactic "delivery van" but generally spends his days bantering and sharing illegal booze with Pilot (Vsevolod Saneyev). When we first meet him, Daniel is lamenting the holes in his socks and rambling about a wonder glue: "Here we have a tube of carpenter's glue, and office glue. I guess it's for gluing our sandwiches together."
Somehow, as the movie abruptly jumps between following the two central characters and Daniel's memories of the beach—where he met up with Maria, with whom he had a fling before she got him reassigned (temporarily) to galactic Siberia—a plot takes shape. Maria and Daniel separately trace mysteries to Margot, where they find Tal—and an answer to the mystery that links it to his Holy Grail, the legendary planet Eolomea.
The trailer (seen on DVDs of two other DEFA sci-fi films, The Silent Star and In the Dust of the Stars) hints that this will be a thriller, perhaps with an unseen bug-eyed monster. Eolomea has an unusual conflict, however: central bureaucracy versus the spirit of exploration. It's interesting to see this dangerous idea play out in an East German movie, but the movie itself is slow, and choppy as it leaps back and forth between its threads. One montage of the lovers riding bikes, sharing a rope swing, and the like is so silly that it seems like a spliced-in bit from Benny Hill. Looking for classic oddball sequences? There's a nonreligious Christmas of Communist tomorrow, with revelers in period dress dancing to Mannheim Steamroller–style rock-mix music.
The best performance here comes from Saneyev, whose character at first seems to be there only for Red Dwarf–style banter but does a great dramatic turn near the end. Andonov also fared well as Daniel, who seems like a goofball but reveals a seriousness underneath.
The transfer, as with others in the recently released DEFA series, is excellent, and the music comes across well, too. First Run Features takes this aspect of the production seriously, and does the same with extras, too. A short film with movie crew members includes costume designer Barbara Müller's memories of touring Cosmonaut Center in Moscow, under tight security that didn't let her see anything close up, and film technician Jan-Peter Schmarje explaining that their studio is now a service facility for others' films, such as The Neverending Story. See this extra first, since special effects cameraman Kurt Marks tells you where to look for the wires on the model spaceships. The biographies aren't deep, but you do learn that Cox Habbema came from the Netherlands, moving to Berlin when she married an East German actor.
Eolomea raises interesting ideas, but it plays like one of those two-part X-Files episodes: well-intentioned and thoughtful, but ultimately trailing off into nothingness. After sampling the other two movies in this DEFA collection (The Silent Star and In the Dust of the Stars), I couldn't resist checking this one out, but its main value is as a curiosity and a snapshot of mild dissent behind the Wall. If you're a budding movie costumer, special effects whiz, or composer, or are becoming fascinated by the challenges of creativity in an oppressive regime, you'll appreciate the extras here.
Of this collection's three entries, this is the guiltiest. If you're intrigued by East German sci-fi, the other two DEFA films available are better bets. Thanks go to First Run Features, though, for preserving this bit of cinematic history and a lesson in perspective. Court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
• "Music and Science Fiction: Playing with Boundaries" (text)
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