My first impression from the trailers was that Prityazhenie would prove to be the Russian version of Arrival.
Fortunately, this is no knock-off. This is not the film rushed into the theaters to beat out the upcoming big Hollywood film. Instead, we are looking at something far different, even if both films deal with aliens arriving on Earth in a big way. This is a movie which, no matter how hard it is trying to copy the American big budget blockbuster summer movie, is far more intelligent and thoughtful than its American kin.
A giant spaceship is hit by a meteor when it arrives at the Earth. As the damaged ship flies over Russia, the Russian Airforce shoots it down and it crashes into the heart of Moscow, smashing buildings and killing hundreds of people in a marvelously kinetic scene only slightly less well rendered than its Hollywood kin.
While the Army quickly cordons off a huge area surrounding the fallen ship, its spectacular arrival has already inspired all the things we know in our hearts such a real life event would stir up: fear, uncertainty, paranoia – and a very real desire for revenge.
One young woman who lost her best friend in the crash decides to take vengeance into her own hands, only something unexpected happens…
What separates this film from many of the other first contact films out there is that it refuses to offer us a simple us-vs-them, good guys vs. bad guys story for most of its running time:
The officer in charge of the forces surrounding the crashed ship may be a hard and harsh man who does not listen easily, but at the same time, he is deeply conscientious with very serious concerns about doing the right thing. In the end manages to find the right way to follow his orders.
Nor is it hard to understand the protesters – even if the final explosion of violence is set off by an emotion for more personal – and primal.
And, perhaps my favorite touch in the whole movie is the young member of Parliament who volunteers to meet the aliens because of his desire for peaceful cooperation with them and the possible benefits they might give us, only to change his opinions radically because of an accident.
As in a lot of Russian SF, we have the notion of the perfect civilization. In the Seventies, this allowed Russian SF writers to safely criticize their own government: by positing a perfect, socialist future, they could show the evils of their own society by giving them to the alien menaces they encountered.
But here, that notion is reversed. Instead, it serves as a contrast to our real failings, no longer hidden, but there on the screen for everyone to see. Somehow, I found it one of the best lines in the film, when Saul talks about their attempts to contact other races and notes that it always ends up shortening the lifespans of their civilizations.
And perhaps the very best comes at the end when Saul wonders what one would give up immortality for.
Fedor Bondarchuk made the impressive two-part adaptation of the Strugatsky brothers Inhabited Island back in 2009 and has made an even better film here, one that dares to talk about our own flaws and failings in an age when most people would rather try to blame everything on the failings of others.
Someone once wondered why we always picture aliens as invaders, and this film answers that question – albeit indirectly. We know who we are. We know what is in our own hearts.
And we wouldn’t invite anyone like us to come visit.
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