Aniara

 

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An off-beat but less than wholly satisfying futuristic tale stylishly presented.

 

Aniara

   

Set in outer space, this film takes its title from the name of a huge space ship intended to take its passengers to Mars after our own planet has been devastated. That clearly makes it a work belonging to the sci-fi genre, but it is an unusual example of it. Like William Golding’s celebrated novel Lord of the Flies, it is an allegory but, in contrast to that piece, the storyline here is less than compelling. Visually, however, it is commanding with the photography in colour and ’Scope showing off the production design which makes the Aniara comparable to a luxury liner in its interior appearance.

 

Equally appealing is the decision by the Swedish directors Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja to root their film in the everyday: by that I mean that Alexander Berg’s music score remains very much in the background and, however extreme the situation depicted may be, it is never geared up to suggest melodrama. Instead, we are invited to identify with the film’s central character who is always referred to as MR - she is played by Emelie Jonsson and is in charge of that part of the ship, the Mima Hall, where passengers are enabled to conjure up visions of landscapes born of their own memories of Earth. This is a facility designed for those expecting to reach Mars within three weeks but a collision with space debris leads to the Aniara jettisoning its fuel and losing its direction.

 

The captain (Arvin Kananian) reassures everybody by claiming that in time contact with some celestial body will enable the ship to put itself to rights and resume its course. However, the astronomer (Anneli Martini) with whom MR shares a cabin dismisses this as a fantasy and, indeed, as chapter headings confirm in due course, the Aniara is set to drift in space for years and years making it akin to a coffin or to its own world to which everyone must adapt.

 

How the passengers respond over ten years and beyond becomes the core of the drama and, just as the children in Lord of the Flies yield to the worst aspects in human nature, those on Aniara go to the bad. They are fed lies by those in charge and in time start to participate in orgiastic rites and are overcome by fears which lead to many suicides. Rather unexpectedly, the norm offered in contrast to this, a genuine love affair that develops, is a lesbian one between MR and the pilot Isagel (Bianca Cruzeiro). However, in creating a screenplay inspired by an epic poem, Kågerman and Lilja focus more on the developing situation than on the characters as such and consequently the severe jumps in time between the chapters leave the tale feeling contrived and sometimes unconvincing in detail. Because of that, the narrative lacks the sense of natural growth and inevitability that Golding captured so brilliantly. Aniara is an unusual and handsome-looking work, but one which fails to disconcert us as a troublingly believable take on human experience.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Emelie Jonsson, Arvin Kananian, Bianca Cruzeiro, Anneli Martini,  Jennie Silfverhjelm, Emma Broomé, Jamil Drissi, Leon Juber, Peter Carlberg, Juan Rodríguez, David Nzinga, Dakota Trancher Williams.

 

Dir Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja, Pro Annika Rogell, Screenplay Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja, based on a space epic poem by Harry Martinson, Ph Sophie Winqvist Loggins, Art Dir Linnéa Pettersson and Maja-Stina Åsberg, Ed Björn Kessler, Pella Kågerman and Michal Leszczylowski, Music Alexander Berg, Costumes Ellen Utterström.

 

Meta Film Stockholm/Unbranded Pictures/Viaplay/Sveriges Television/Vice-Arrow Films.
106 mins. Sweden/USA/Norway. 2018. Rel: 30 August 2019. Cert. 18.