Aelita: Queen of Mars

Director: Yakov Protazanov
Year: 1924
Rating: 7.5
Country: Russia

A.K.A. Revolt of the Robots

This Russian silent film was restored frame by frame and it is a beautiful thing to see. It is a remarkable film that has many sides to it - a sci-fi fantasy, a domestic three sided drama, a critical look at the USSR shortly after the 1917 Revolution and finally an exaltation of revolution and freedom. The sci-fi part of it is particularly stunning with its futuristic sets and the authoritarian state it depicts. It was clearly influential on other films such as Metropolis. The original music was composed by Shostakovich, but that has been lost and so the new soundtrack is derived from the classical music of other Russian composers and is magnificent.

The story is told from the fevered imagination of LOS, an engineer who is researching how to build a rocket to Mars - and who is passionately married to Natasha. On December 4th, 1921 a telegraph message is received by people simultaneously all over the world from an unknown source that simply states - Anta Odeli Uta. No one knows what it means but LOS is aflame at the prospect that it came from Mars and it throws him into an ongoing dream where he imagines life on Mars. This is where the film excels.

The Martians who are human in appearance live in a world that looks to have been designed by an avant-garde neo-cubist with descending staircases and metallic structures everywhere and the populace dressed in modern chic trendy Egyptian influenced clothes. They are served by men or robots with their heads encased in square metal boxes. The planet is ruled by The Elders but there is a Queen - Aelita - who has no power. The proletariat under them are simply worker bees who are from time to time put into cold storage (filmed beautifully). Gor has invented a machine that allows the Martians to keep an eye on all the planets in the Universe and Aelita breaks the rules by peering upon earth where she sees and falls in love with LOS and the human kiss. As I watched it, I felt almost as if it should be a ballet with all the rhythmic motion and accompanying music.

While this fantasy is playing in LOS's head, in the real world he realizes that his wife has entered into a flirtation with a bourgeoise counter-revolutionary. This part of the film is less intriguing and interesting today primarily for what it shows about the conditions of life under Soviet rule. Surprisingly, it is slyly critical though by the end it is all in for the Revolution. A wise director.

Beautifully shot and inventively designed with those great silent film closeups that I love so much - it was directed by Yakov Protazanov, who had lived in Paris for a few years but came back to the USSR in 1923 and went on to direct many films that were very popular. This one was a box office smash. There don't seem to be many of his films though other than this one that are available with English subs.