This is an absolutely engrossing and exciting film which consists almost entirely of three guys sitting in a car talking.
Yes, you read that right.
What makes this an even more remarkable film is that it was made by two brothers with a little help from their Mom, a crew of three and four actors (one of whom only shows up at the end), with a basically zero budget.
As I’ve noted before, 2019 was an absolutely incredible year for Independent film, with what must be a record number of outstanding movies, including: the poetic and complex mystery of The Tangle; the stunning but grungy space epics Prospect and Das Letzte Land; a wordless survival drama set in a robot ravaged land, A Living Dog; and now Cosmos (with one or two highly praised films out there waiting for me to catch up with them).
Now, any film this minimal which has already gathered a lot of praise is one I have to see. My conclusion: it definitely deserves all the praise that’s been heaped on it — and more.
A group of friends with a shared love of astronomy have been taking regular excursions to a remote forest to spend the night observing the skies. However, things have not gone well between them and Harry’s old friend Roy has not joined them on one of these expeditions for a long time. Then there is a lot of friction between Roy and the newest member of the group, Mike.
Unlike the others, Mike is a radio astronomer. He’s working on a revolutionary program that will instantly render radio images but is having trouble perfecting it.
He picks up what might be an intelligent signal in the midst of all the noise and clutter and, on a whim, sends a reply knowing that it would be years before he might get a response, even if someone out there did hear it.
Only his message gets played back, just a few minutes later.
Cosmos got its start because Elliot and Zander Weaver wanted to make a science fiction film called The Encounter, but couldn’t find the backing they needed despite their industry experience and the documentaries they’d made.
Feature films and documentaries are quite different, and their potential backers weren’t impressed. They learned that the best way to get funding for a feature film was to go out and make a feature film.
Which, yes, is a bit contradictory.
So they scraped together what resources they had, borrowed what they could and talked a few of their friends into helping out for free. It took them five years, but the result is an astonishing film about friendship, shared dreams, the love of discovery, and the longing for something greater than ourselves. I have to wonder whether the Weaver Brothers share their characters love for astronomy, or whether it is their love of filmmaking, storytelling and the web of friendships behind this film which inspired it.
One of my biggest surprises was that one of the film’s most iconic shots, of a character standing against a dazzling and luminous night sky, was a green-screen shot. I suppose it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise as it is rare to see such a glorious night, but it doesn’t look digital.
Which is even more of a feat, particularly when you remember that the brothers did all the effects themselves.
The night sky plays a major role in the film and the end result — regardless of how much of what we see is real — is a thing of true beauty.
Another major surprise is that only one of the three stars, Arjun Singh Panam (Roy), had appeared in a movie before. The performances are all excellent (although I suspect it helps that their characters are all so well written)
Perhaps the best moment in the film comes when Mike, in his progress through the radio bands, stumbles over a broadcast of a bouncy performance of the folk song “Brother Rat,” and all three join it singing its silly chorus.
I’ll confess that I took one of the film’s nicer touches for granted until I saw the “making of” video and realized how much thought went into it. They’ve turned the interior of an old Volvo Station Wagon into three very useable workstations. It is a remarkably clever use of the rather tight space and looks so plausible that we never give it a second thought.
I do have a few minor reservations about the film, although they are minor. I’ll confess that I found the final car “chase” just a tad bit overdone (although it is as well crafted as the rest of the film and quite suspenseful). More problematic is the scene where Mike explains his obsession with Radio Astronomy to Roy. It’s one of those bits of explanation which is pitched at such an elementary level that it is jarring when we hear it told to a fellow amateur Astronomer.
Let’s face it, with my fascination with science, I could probably have told you most of that back when I was in Sixth Grade.
However, neither of these quibbles takes much away from a dazzling, often out-and-out gorgeous film. I’m impressed that is seems to have leapt almost directly from its first Festival appearances to VOD, just as Prospect did.
But I can’t say I’m surprised.
So good luck, gentlemen, and I’m looking forward to The Encounter.
I just hope it won’t take you five years this time.