A mysterious radio message is beamed around the world, and among the engineers who receive it are Los and his colleague Spiridonov. Aelita, the daughter of Tuskub, the ruler of a totalitarian state on Mars, watches Los. As if by telepathy, Los obsesses about being watched by her. After some hugger-mugger involving the murder of his wife and a pursuing detective, Los takes the identity of Spiridonov and builds a spaceship. With the revolutionary Gusev, he travels to Mars where they begin a proletarian uprising which Aelita offers to lead. Los is shocked when she establishes her own totalitarian regime instead.
Directed by: Yakov Protazanov
. Starring: Yuliya Solntseva
, Igor Ilyinsky
, Nikolai Tsereteli
, Nikolai Batalov
, Vera Orlova
, Valentina Kuindzhi
, Pavel Pol
, Konstantin Eggert
, Yuri Zavadsky
, Aleksandra Peregonets
, Sofya Levitina
, Varvara Massalitinova
, Mikhail Zharov
Yakov ProtazanovDirected by Yakov Protazanov, who led an interesting life, when interesting lives meant death. Protazanov directed many films from 1911 through 1918, and was acclaimed by many as a genius. Some background in Soviet history helps set the scene for "Aelita." It was in a series of revolts in 1917 that the Tsars were overthrown and replaced by a provisional government. The Tsarist army had suffered setbacks and losses in World War I, and it was not capable of supporting the Tsar. The Tsar was deposed in February of 1917. (Or March. The tsars used the Gregorian calendar, and the soviets used the Julian calendar.)
The October Revolution is usually dated to have occurred on October 25, 1917, a date you will see emblazoned in fire during the screening of "Aelita." The October Revolution overthrew the Russian Provisional Government which was set in place following the February Revolution. (The western world may know the October Revolution as the Bolshevik Revolution.) During the years from about 1918 through 1922, there was continual combat in the country as the White Russian army fought the Bolsheviks for power and control of the country. This is referred to as the Russian Civil War, and it led to the formation of the Soviet Union.
It was during the period of the Russian Civil War that Protazanov was exiled or self-exiled, depending on who tells the tale, in Europe. He was persuaded to return to the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1923, and he directed "Aelita: Queen of Mars" which is probably the first soviet movie and may be the first soviet science fiction film as well. "Aelita" is a propaganda film, as all good soviet films are. However, it shows us life in the Soviet Union rather starkly, and it recounts life there as a struggle not only to survive but to be good communists as well. I'm somewhat surprised at the reality of life shown: abject poverty, horrible crowding and population dislocation, state control of who lives in your house (even in what rooms), rationing, and the like. I think part of the purpose of "Aelita" is to warn state bureaucrats not to turn to corruption, as a corrupt official is shown being investigated for his crimes.
I would say the foundation of "Aelita" is showing the daily lives of regular people after the Russian Civil War as they try to rebuild the country into the Soviet Union, as seen by Lenin and the Communist Party. One of the regular people is named Los or Loss, depending on the translation of Лось, who is an engineer. Los daydreams of space travel, and his co-workers put up with him good-naturedly. A radio broadcast is received throughout the world with a cryptic message, and Los foolishly believes it's a transmission from Mars. He fantasizes about building a rocket ship and going to Mars, and he fantasizes what Martians are like. Meanwhile, back on earth, his wife works at what is referred to as a check point, processing travelers who are going from nowhere to another nowhere on crowded trains at crowded stations. A party bureaucrat is put into the home where Los and his wife live. The bureaucrat sweet talks Mrs. Los, and the engineer gets jealous.
His fantasies of Mars include fantastic sets and fantastic costumes, with an attractive Queen of Mars who wears a fantasy top which seems to support three breasts. In his fantasy, the queen can see earth and in fact sees him and is intrigued. However, although she reigns, she does not rule, and she is ordered to stop spying on earth. After many, many twists and turns of plot, our hero finally takes off from earth and lands on Mars, where he leads a revolution.
One of the faults of "Aelita" is its many subplots, and they take up a significant amount of time, leading to a movie that nears two hours in length. The Martian fantasies take up a very small portion of the movie, so I'm not willing to call it truly a sci-fi movie, but the alien life is certainly a major plot point. The thrust of "Aelita" is that the soviet life-style is best on earth and off and that we should stop our daydreaming and get some real work done. The Martian segments are metaphorically about life under the tsars with literal throwing off of chains and escape from serfdom.
The propaganda is there, but it's not heavy handed. The movie is too long, too convoluted with subplots, but it remains interesting as a picture of life after the Russian Civil War. Nikolai Tsereteli is Los, Yuliya Solntseva plays the queen of his dreams, and Valentina Kuindzhi plays Natasha Los, his wife in the all too real world of 1924 Soviet Union. As an aside, although the movie took place over the course of a year, the city where the action occurred remained bitterly cold and snow-covered through out the movie. The Martian sets and costumes get some kidding today, so you may find it worthwhile to watch and compare to "Metropolis," "Buck Rogers" (the Buster Crabbe version), and maybe "The Cabinet of Dr.
Review by pontifikator from the Internet Movie Database.