“Out of the Present” provides unique insight into Soviet space travel, accompanying a cosmonaut who goes into orbit as a citizen of the USSR and returns to a new Russia 10 months later. One of the surprise audience hits of the Rotterdam Film Festival, this engrossing, firsthand account of a spin at zero gravity, which includes what reportedly is the first 35mm space footage ever shot, should lift off into a series of docu forums and public TV slots.
The mission being chronicled is a May 1991 expedition in which two Soviet cosmonauts and an English researcher were sent to the MIR space station for a five-month stint. Two of them returned to Earth on the agreed date, but, together with a replacement crew member, Sergei Krikalev stayed on for double that length of time due to political concerns down below.
Director Andrei Ujica compiled the majority of the documentary from Russian TV coverage of the space mission and video material of the rioting and other events surrounding the putsch that took place in Moscow in August of that year. Space footage was gathered from the archives of Russian space center Energia, in addition to original sequences filmed for this project, with Vadim Yusov (a former lenser of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films) directing the shots from Earth.
Quality of the material varies wildly but remains quite absorbing nonetheless , providing unusually intimate knowledge of an astronaut’s routine. The film creates an intriguing drama of mild-mannered Krikalev’s reaction to the shake-up in his homeland, giving equal time to his maintenance duties, recreation, amusing goof-off moments and concerned attention to the radio broadcasts keeping him abreast of developments back home.
Though not overlong, the film’s pacing is a little inconsistent. Some minor structural tightening and reduction of the long static stretches of cosmos footage accompanied by kitsch technofunk tunes could make it more TV-friendly.