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by Jay Seaver

"East Germany funds a mission to Saturn. What could go wrong?"
3 stars

I have mixed feelings about films like "Interkosmos". A new filmmaker like Jim Finn has to start somewhere, and this no-budget parody documentary constructed out of stock footage and what are basically home movies shows a knack for stylization and (very) offbeat humor. That humor is dry to the point of being arid, though, and if Finn wants more mainstream success, he's going to have to work on that.

Of course, maybe Jim Finn isn't interested in mainstream success. For all I know, this sort of of retro-weird movie is the sort of thing he wants to spend his life on, or he wants to do different but similarly artsy low-budget films. Which is cool; film needs its outsider artists just as much as any other medium. We're often just so used to looking at it as corporate-produced and made by committee that we forget that anybody can make a feature-length film.

Finn's film takes its name from the Eastern Bloc space program which, it posits, launched an ambitious mission to put colonies on Titan (a moon of Saturn) and Ganymede (orbiting Jupiter). Now, for the first time, the west can see clips of archival footage about the mission's launch, meet the crew, and learn about the library that East Germany included as part of the mission, to stand as an untouchable repository of the history of world communism in the event of nuclear cataclysm.

The world Finn creates for his film is extraordinarily convincing. The "found footage" is not just authentically grainy and black and white where appropriate, but genuinely looks like it has not been treated well for thirty years, and not from digitally-added scratches - seconds are washed out, the soundtrack is lost, etc. The costuming and set design are also dead on, and he's able to find locations and angles in Chicago, IL and Ithaca, NY that look like old, abandoned Soviet compounds. My only complaint would be that the interior of a crew capsule looks a little too spacious for a 1970s spaceship; there shouldn't be any room to place a camera good enough to return the color film we see (or headroom of any kind). I do absolutely love the gorgeously retro miniature of what the colony would look like when finished, complete with central spire and monorail.

There's also a quirky sense of humor at play. A subplot is that the two mission scientists, Cosmonaut "Seagull" (Nandini Khaund, with Petra Bachmaier reading her voice-over work) and Cosmonaut "Falcon" (Finn) are in love, despite coming from different continents and being sent to different planets, and their courtship via letters and radio communication is delightfully off-kilter, filled with nerdy spaceflight references and talk so unusual that even Falcon doesn't seem to know what the heck Seagull is talking about much of the time (her answers to letters from schoolchildren are also priceless). There's a precisely-choreographed field hockey dance sequence that is hilarious in its serious joylessness. And there's a segment on why the guinea pig (the mission's mascot) was such a popular pet in East Germany, and an impossibly cute scene of one of the little guys in a miniature spacesuit.

Sadly, though, not all of the side trips are as amusing. Even at seventy-one minutes, the film includes segments that are crushingly dull, even beyond the satirical value of them being things East German Communist bureaucrats would come up with. The insistence on some sort of musical interlude every eight to ten minutes, after the structure of a Bubsy Berkley film, leads to a choppy, disjointed feel - not enough of them are hilarious pastiches of mid-70s communist propaganda music to make it work. And if someone can tell me what the heck the stuff with the dolphins was, I'd appreciate it.

Most of Finn's previous work has been short films, and Interkosmos certainly feels like a short film that outgrew that medium. It's a valiant effort, though, and it's too bad that the "laughing out loud" time doesn't quite edge past the "fidgeting in one's seat" time.

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originally posted: 06/15/06 03:39:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2006 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Jim Finn

Written by
  Jim Finn

  Jim Finn
  Dean DeMatteis
  Goran Milos
  Nandini Khaund
  Ruediger van den Boom

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