As Russia is in the news for election interference, geopolitical maneuverings, and their ongoing attempt to be the first in the world to find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, an intelligent and thoughtful science-fiction film enters the scene. Sputnik, now premiering in the United States, follows an on-demand release in Russia earlier this year as many theaters remain closed.
Following the crash landing of two Soviet-era cosmonauts, the circumstances of which are mysterious and kept from the public, Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) is called upon for her medical expertise and willingness to take risks in treating her patients. Colonel Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk), the officer in charge of the secret operation and the one who recruited Tatyana, will stop at nothing in his pursuit for answers. The surviving spaceman is Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov) and he finds himself the subject of medical analysis as everybody around him tries to find out what happened to him in space and, consequentially, what is now living inside of him.
With Sputnik, Russia continues to impress in the field of arts and culture and this film is here to leave a mark. In a year that is already impacted by a pandemic, and movies being pushed back to next year or indefinitely, the sci-fi genre is underrepresented. Yet, here we are.
Politics also play a role in this story. Being set in early the 1980s, and squarely within the Soviet Union, we are constantly reminded of the nationalistic pride that came with the Soviet space program and its astronauts. They were regarded as heroes, and this operation threatens that perception if the public found out. Later on, the secrecy of this mission and the details surrounding its legitimacy are unveiled even more. Throughout the film, though, a sense of duty and responsibility to the nation is reiterated and this conflict will force some characters to make difficult decisions.
The acting is incredibly well done and the characters being portrayed express some clear moral and ethical dilemmas. For American audiences, a Russian film is not something that typically fills our theaters, but this is not a typical time. Following years of increased international films and their success in American markets, such as with Roma and Parasite, it should be no surprise that Sputnik would find some success.
The idea of an alien invasion or parasitic presence is hardly new, and films about this have been made for decades now. But the way Sputnik tells its story is especially sinister and offputting. There is a grotesqueness that creeps up. There are very few quick moments. Instead, as events unfold and decisions are made, the audience is forced to linger and be patient. This helps to set the mood and it is done effectively.
Given more theaters and wider access to moviegoers, the film would undoubtedly be doing even better. With that in mind, it stands to reason that this film will find itself an awards contender a few months from now as we look back on the year and what came out.
Sputnik is now available to rent or purchase on Amazon and may be playing in a theater or drive-in near you.