Sci-Fi TIFF series Toronto film

Cold War sci-fi series kicks up a storm at the Lightbox

Somehow, I don't think it's a mere coincidence that Attack the Bloc: Cold War Science Fiction from Behind the Iron Curtain launches in the dead of winter. There's a sense of "anywhere but here" in this program, a great distraction for Torontonians, and a great incentive to leave the house to head to the TIFF Bell Lightbox. This strategically placed program is a charming mixture of quality artistic works by cherished directors such as Andrei Tarkovsky, bizarre and curious genre works like Who Wants to Kill Jessie? and an interesting selection of films that were born of the Soviet propaganda machine.

Despite being a dedicated science fiction fan, this series really had me at a loss. The only films from this program that I'd had seen previously Solaris and The Silent Star. While both are high quality examples of the depth and creativity of Cold War-era sci-fi, I knew I just had to see more. While I've caught up a bit, there's still so many more films to see. I'm personally quite curious to see the films that were obvious examples of targeted propaganda, such as Adolescents in the Universe and The Great Space Voyage. But for the curious, here are some of the series highlights.

Those looking for a laugh and for whom Woody Allen's Sleeper was a great example of sci-fi comedy may enjoy this Czech gem. In the DISTANT YEAR of 1999 on an Earth where women are infertile (and bearded!) due to terrorist bomb, a group of scientists try to turn back the clock, so to speak. Their plan? To travel back in time to assassinate Albert Einstein before he sets the wheels in motion for their unfunny future. Obviously, this leads to mayhem.

The summary provided for this film does not do it justice. After watching what I thought would be a late 80's interpretation on the film noir genre was anything but. This Estonian film struck me more of a European homage to American crime films of the 70's. The sci-fi element is well hidden until the last chapter of the film, up until then the film is mostly a surrealist mystery about a stranded cop struggling to solve a crime in a hotel full of narcissistic, insane people. There's disco, bad dubbing and talented St. Bernard too. Dead Mountaineer's Hotel will screen a second time on March 23rd at 9pm.

In a space industry that believes humans to be less trustworthy than androids, a controversial crew is assembled and Captain Pirxa must judge their ability to work together. To reduce bias, he's not told the identity of his team, a fact that haunts him. Throughout their mission, Pirxa develops an overwhelming obsession with his crew, studying their reactions and plying them with questions and tests. But while he's busy analyzing their moves, he's privy to confessions from both sides and begins to distrust his whole team. A chilling example of space and technology paranoia.

The pivotal film in this series has to be the sci-fi classic Solaris, a haunting film about a planet that has the ability to draw information and memories from humans to create vivid and realistic depictions of their fears and dreams. A psychologist sent to investigate and assist affected astronauts in contact with the planet finds himself targeted by Solaris, as he is reintroduced to his late wife. Described as the Soviet response to 2001: A Space Odyssey, instead this work is of an emotive level not found anywhere in Kubrick's classic work. Solaris also screens Thursday February 2nd at 8:45pm.

A contemporary reimagining of the Golem tale in a future where genetic modification and cloning has become commonplace to keep the population up. The result is a world full of consumerist excess that resembles a dilapidated version of the past. One of these manufactured men is Pernat, a slow-witted watch-maker, clueless about his own origins and plagued by memories he can't quite recall. A grim fairy-tale, Golem is a warning but shot in a cinematic style which may have gone on to influence grim dystopics like Jean Paul Jeunet.

While the meat of the series takes place within the next two weeks, Attack the Bloc runs weekly until Friday April 6th. All screenings will take place at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, tickets are $12 for non-members and can be purchased online or at the cinema. Check the program for more screenings and showtimes.

Still from Solaris

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