Coming to select theatres and to virtual cinemas today, Friday, September 11:
Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter
RIDM, DOK Leipzig, Torino, Tallinn Black Nights, Mar del Plata, Sao Paolo, Reykjavik, Vienna
A meditation on the fate of the Soviet Union’s animal cosmonauts.
In 1957, the Soviet Union scored a scientific and publicity victory by successfully launching the first mammal into space. Laika, a dog from the streets of Moscow, made history, and entered the public consciousness as a fairly benign image of the space race. Filmmakers Elsa Kremser and Levin Peter tear away at those innocent associations, revealing the poor mutt’s sad fate in its opening scene, and then weaving an increasingly downbeat story of other hapless animal cosmonauts – complete with fascinating but disturbing archival footage of the various tests and bodily modifications forced upon them to make them space-ready – paired with the present-day adventures of Moscow street dogs. If the footage of the animal testing isn’t hard enough, the filmmakers include a truly challenging scene that details the aftermath of a confrontation between the canines and a poor cat, and later reveals the heartbreaking fate of a litter of stray puppies in its closing scene. While very well made, it’s a cruel and provocative film, and while that’s its point, it makes for a decidedly difficult watch.