Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 33
10 May 1999

Andrei Ujica's Out of the Present (1995)
Zero-gravity fun on Mir
K I N O E Y E:
A Space Age Revolution
Andrei Ujica's Out of the Present

Andrew James Horton

Proudly proclaiming itself to be "the first film made in outer space," Andrei Ujica's Out of the Present (Germany/Russia, 1995) is ostensibly a documentary about the space mission undertaken by Sergei Krikalev and Anatoli Artsebarski. As well as being a showcase of breath-taking photography and amusing anecdotal footage, the film reflects on the contrast between political revolution and man's natural state.

When Sergei Krikalev waved goodbye to his family, he could scarcely have imagined how much would have changed by the time he next saw them. His launch to take him on a mission to the space station Mir took place on 18 May 1991 from the Soviet Union. When he returned to Earth on 25 March 1992, the country no longer existed.

Andrei Ujica's Out of the Present (1995)
Arriving to a hero's welcome
His experience of the changes, narrated by his colleague Anatoli Artsebarski, differ somewhat from those on the ground. The cosmonauts engage themselves with their work, which often seems to be on the level of mundane household tasks in a messy bachelor pad. Despite the impediment of zero gravity, life continues as normal: the crew cut each other's hair, light candles at Christmas and perform routine repairs, such as hacksawing pipes. Wires, gadgets and ducts lie everywhere and computer parts seem to have been assembled haphazardly The space station is a surprising mixture of rough and ready technology and the plainly domestic. It's a far cry from the gleaming corridors of the USS Enterprise.

Andrei Ujica's Out of the Present (1995)
Cosmonaut's eye view
The bizarre normality of this life is contrasted with footage of riots in Moscow, as the Soviet Union crumbles. Tanks roll onto the streets and shots are fired. "We have a brand new control room with a brand new map," mission control radios the space station one day, "the Baltic States have changed colour." However, to the cosmonauts the world looks the same, and whilst they are fully informed about events below, they are totally removed from and bewildered by the processes which are unfolding beneath them. When Krikalev is asked by a journalist from ground control which of the changes he finds most impressive, he pauses and says he does not understand the question. The question is repeated, and after mumbling a few vague phrases, he opts for the fact that it has just turned light.

Andrei Ujica's Out of the Present (1995)
Domestics made difficult
The team's distance from the political turmoil is emphasised by the slow, elegiac sequences of docking procedures and the earth's geographical features, portrayed in what can only be described as hallucinogenic detail. Clouds, ice sheets, coral reefs and rivers snaking through barren desserts come under the telephoto lens of the station's camera and make the world seem like it is, or at least should be, a tranquil place. Reflecting this innocent view of the world, the crew return to almost child-like states, indulging in lots of zero-gravity horseplay and pranks.

Ujica makes his philosophical intentions clear by using references to the only two realistic contenders for the sci-fi cum existentialist genre - Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Tarkovsky's Soliaris. The former being alluded to through the use of Strauss waltzes and the latter by use of a clip from the closing sequence of the film.

Out of the Present defies categorisation and can be watched on any number of levels: informative documentary, trippy visual orgy, tangential political commentary on Russia or philosophical meditation. Whichever way you approach it, the film is highly enjoyable.

Andrew James Horton, 10 May 1999

Click here for a review of Andrej Ujica and Farun Harocki's Videograms of a Revolution.


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