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  Solaris Strong ReminderBuy this film here.
Year: 1972
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Stars: Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, Jüri Järvet, Vladislav Dvorzhetsky, Nikolai Grinko, Anatoli Solonitsyn, Sos Sargsayan, Olga Barnet, Tamara Ogorodnikova, Georgi Tejkh
Genre: Science Fiction, Romance
Rating:  8 (from 3 votes)
Review: Psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) wanders the lakeside near the home of his parents, taking his morning constitutional before losing himself once more in the problems his work is bringing up. Returning to the house, he sees that a cosmonaut, Berton (Vladislav Dvorzhetsky), has arrived to show him footage of his last space mission and the conference that resulted, which now was quite some time ago. This is all to do with the ocean-covered planet of Solaris, and the strange effects it has on anyone who orbits in the space station there; Berton suffered weird visions that did not show up on film and now Kelvin is heading out there, what has he got himself into?

If you were a film fan in the seventies, whether science fiction or otherwise, if you really wanted to appear highbrow and intellectual you would not opt for Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey as the greatest science fiction film ever made. Oh no, for true status you would have to claim Solaris as your favourite, and you would also let it be known that you understood it perfectly into the bargain, so daunting this Andrei Tarkovsky work was to the layman. You wouldn't think it was too long, either, which was one aspect offputting to many people, and you would be right in that judgement.

For not a frame is wasted here in the service of creating an eerie atmosphere and getting across the musings upon love and memory. This was because in this film, you can indeed put your arms around a memory, and that's the chief issue troubling our hero: once he reaches the station (and he takes his time about it, too) he finds that there are only two staff there, the third having died in mysterious circumstances. Yet they are not entirely the only inhabitants, as Kelvin discovers through first the message left to him by the dead man.

And second, when he wakes up after going to bed because the other two keep delaying any discussion, he finds himself not alone. His wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk) has joined him, which is nice except that she died ten years ago, so what is she doing there? It's all to do with the planet, which may or may not be a massive cosmic superbrain revolving in the void of space, but is definitely creating living beings out of the scientists' minds. Initially, Kelvin is reluctant to share his quarters with someone he thought he had got over, and sends her off in a rocket, but come the next day she is back.

Hari is not entirely understanding of her situation, but as the time goes by she grows more aware and less happy that she is not a real person, and Kelvin is none too pleased either. But the power of memory is not to be underestimated, and Tarkovsky makes the point that even if they are not the authentic experience, they can still stir the same emotions if recalled strongly enough. This conflict between the inner life and the outer one plays out through the rest of the film, along with a lesson about not knowing what you have till it is gone, and as Kelvin relives his love for Hari which is intensifying with each passing hour her facsimile grows ever more depressed at her state, so the stage is set for heartbreak. Solaris is not an easy film to get along with (and the prickly Tarkovsky wasn't pleased with it himself), but it is deep and humane in the best sense, providing food for thought and capping it with a mindbending but oddly affecting ending. Music by Eduard Artemyev.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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