Aelita

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“Aelita” is a science fiction film Soviet silent film from 1924 directed by Yakov Protazanov. The film is based on the novel by Aleksei Tolstoy, “Aelita, or the hero from Mars”, published in 1923.

The film is set on both Earth and Mars and follows the story of an Earth engineer named Los who, after building a spaceship, flies to Mars where he meets Queen Aelita. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Los’s wife Natasha is living an unfulfilling life and falls in love with an army officer. The plot develops by alternating the narration of the story on Mars and that of the events on Earth.

The film is known for its stunning cinematography, innovative production designs, and expressionist style. It was one of the first science fiction films in the history of cinema and influenced many subsequent directors, including Fritz Lang e Stanley Kubrick.

“Aelita” was highly successful in the Soviet Union but received mixed reviews from Western critics. Nevertheless, the film has become a classic of Soviet cinema and one of the most important silent films of the 20th century.

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Plot

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The film “Aelita” takes place in two parallel settings: on Earth and on Mars.

On Earth, engineer Mstislav Los (played by Nikolai Tsereteli) works on a project to build a spacecraft. His married life with his wife Natasha (played by Valentina Kuindzhi) is in crisis and she feels neglected and bored. She meets an army officer, Fedor (played by Pavel Pol), and starts a relationship with him.

Meanwhile, Los completes his spacecraft and flies to Mars, where he meets Queen Aelita (played by Yuliya Solntseva). Aelita is the sole survivor of a highly advanced Martian civilization and rules over a population of slaves. Los and Aelita fall in love and, together with some Martian revolutionaries, try to overthrow the oppressive regime of the queen.

The film is known for its innovative cinematography and its vision of life on Mars as a highly technological but oppressive society. The love between Los and Aelita represents the possibility of a better and more just future, both on Earth and on Mars.

Characters

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Here are the main characters of the 1924 film “Aelita”:

Mstislav Los – played by Nikolai Tsereteli, is an Earth engineer who builds a spaceship and flies to Mars, where he meets Queen Aelita. On Earth, he is in a failing relationship with his wife Natasha.

Natasha – played by Valentina Kuindzhi, is Los’s wife who has an unfulfilling life and falls in love with an army officer. She tries to steal money to follow him to Siberia, but is discovered by her husband.

Aelita – played by Yuliya Solntseva, is the queen of Mars and the only survivor of her highly advanced civilization. He falls in love with Los and seeks to overthrow the oppressive regime that rules over a population of slaves.

Fedor – played by Pavel Pol, is an army officer who is in a relationship with Natasha on Earth.

Spiridonov – played by Konstantin Eggert, is a Martian revolutionary who aids Los and Aelita in their rebellion against the queen.

The director of the theater – played by Igor Ilyinsky, is a comic character who appears on Earth as a friend of Los and who tries to seduce the cafeteria waitress.

The landlord – played by Yuri Zavadsky, is a comic character who appears on Earth as the landlord of Los and tries to exploit the protagonist’s money.

These characters represent the different social spheres of the film, from the world of Martian engineers and revolutionaries to the world of unhappy spouses and comic characters.

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Film Production

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The 1924 film “Aelita” was directed by the Soviet director Yakov Protazanov and produced by the Mezhrabpomfilm film studio. The screenplay, written by Aleksei Fajko and Fyodor Otsep, was adapted from the science fiction novel “Aelita” by Russian writer Aleksei Tolstoy.

The film was shot entirely in the Soviet Union, mostly in Moscow, and required a significant budget for the time. The production employed a number of high-profile actors and technicians, including cinematographer Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky and actress Yuliya Solntseva, who played the role of Aelita.

The film was notable for its technical innovations, especially the use of chrome to create the effect of a high-tech Mars world and low-angle shots in which the actors appear to walk on the ceiling.

‘Aelita’ was one of the first Soviet films to receive wide international distribution and attracted international interest for its fantastic imagination and social commentary. The film was restored and digitized in 2016 and is still considered a classic of science fiction cinema today.

Distribution and Reception

“Aelita” was released in the Soviet Union in 1924, and had moderate success with audiences and critics. The film was notable for its use of innovative techniques and advanced special effects for its time, making it one of the first science fiction films of Soviet cinema.

The film also generated international interest, and was released in several European countries and the United States, where it was enthusiastically received by critics and audiences. “Aelita” was particularly appreciated for its innovative vision of the future and its social critique of the Soviet society of the time.

However, the film has also come under criticism for its stereotypical portrayal of Martians as primitive and brutal creatures. Furthermore, some critics felt that the film was too long and that the plot got lost in several subplots that didn’t integrate perfectly.

Despite these criticisms, “Aelita” has become a classic of science fiction cinema, influencing many other works of the genre and remaining a cornerstone of the Soviet cinematography from the 1920s. The film was restored and digitized in 2016, and is now available on DVD and online streaming.

Movie Style

“Aelita” is known for its innovative style and advanced cinematic technique for its time. The film uses techniques such as the use of chrome plating and reflective image projection to create the effect of a high-tech Mars world. Furthermore, director Yakov Protazanov used low-angle shots in which the actors appear to walk on the ceiling, creating an effect of distortion and visual estrangement.

The film also uses a mix of directing styles, ranging from fast-paced action scenes to lyrical reflective moments. Additionally, the film’s score was composed by Nikolai Kryukov, who used modern musical instruments such as the theremin to create an alienating and experimental atmosphere.

“Aelita” uses a combination of advanced visual techniques and complex storytelling to create an imaginative picture of the Soviet future and society. The film represents a clear innovation of the science fiction genre, and has influenced many subsequent films in the genre.

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Director

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Yakov Protazanov, born January 4, 1881 in Moscow and died August 8, 1945 in Sochi, was a Russian director, screenwriter and actor, active above all in the first half of the 20th century.

Protazanov was one of the most important directors of Russian cinema of the 10s and 20s. He directed several successful films, including 1916’s ‘The Million’ and 1917’s ‘The Queen of Swords’, and collaborated with leading actors and directors of the time.

“Aelita” from 1924 is considered one of his masterpieces. The film was notable for its technical innovations and fantastic imagination, and influenced many subsequent films in the science fiction genre.

Protazanov continued to work in film even after the rise of the Soviet regime, but had difficulty adjusting to the new restrictions imposed by the communist government. He directed several films in the 1930s and 1940s, but his style and subject matter increasingly conformed to the demands of the regime. At the end of his career, he devoted himself mainly to teaching cinema.

In general, Protazanov was a major innovator in the field of Russian cinema, and his work influenced many subsequent directors and authors. His contribution to Soviet and Russian cinema has been recognized with numerous awards and honors.

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