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    Lesbian Love and Life Featured in Swedish Sci-Fi Space Flick

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    The imaginative Swedish sci-fi film Aniara opens with what looks like an end credits crawl as images of disasters unspool behind them. “Say goodbye to Earth,” someone instructs as people look out the window on Aniara, a transport craft that resembles a floating cruise ship, complete with restaurants, shopping malls, arcades and a gym.

    The crew and passengers are headed to Mars, where life will continue after the three-week space journey to a new home. But what happens in Aniara, which opens May 17 in the Bay Area, is not unlike, well, Gilligan’s Island. When the ship veers off course, everyone is trapped for an indeterminant period of time. In those ensuing years—and they are years—there are hopes for rescue. Meanwhile, society breaks down.

    Co-written and directed by Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja, and based on the epic poem by Harry Martinson, Aniara posits big philosophical themes of life, death and birth, as well as love and sex, and anxiety, and despair. The main character is Mimaroben (Emelie Jonsson), who manages Mima Hall, which can best be described as an “escape room,” but not in the sense that phrase is used today.

    At Mima Hall, passengers take off their shoes, lie down and put their heads in a foam pillow to experience memories of Earth. Mimaroben, for example, likes to reflect on nature and eating raspberries. Others envision scenes from their lives. The room is initially not very popular until Aniara goes off course, and suddenly, everyone wants to escape their present reality and recall a happier past. Mimaroben cannot handle the overwhelming demand.

    One of the visitors to Mima Hall is Isagel (Bianca Cruzeiro), a comely pilot that Mimaroben is attracted to. She can hardly suppress her lust spying on and admiring Isagel in Mira Hall or in a pool where they meet one night when they both can’t sleep. The women’s romance shifts into high gear when they are reassigned jobs and end up rooming together.

    Isagel and Mimaroben start to dance, they soon share a shower, a kiss and then have sex. Things get a bit complicated as the years pass, and they participate in a kind of orgy arranged by a kind of cult. While the film shrewdly offers only a title card about this secret society, as a result of the encounter, Isagel becomes pregnant.

    Aniara uses the birth of Isagel’s child, as well as the rescue mission that avails after years of orbiting, as a way of commenting on the preciousness of life in the crucible that is the transport ship. The film asks—but deliberately does not answer—larger questions, such as how do we provide for future generations, while it also contemplates immediate concerns on how do we manage our food, education and even our pleasure in a society that is decaying. It is an obvious, but critical, allegory for life on Earth.

    Yet while this fable is compelling, it does not generate much emotion as it presents its lessons for humanity. Scenes where Mimaroben actively tries to save Mima Hall from being destroyed by overuse, or a man experiencing the anxiety of what he fears to be impending death, are curiously unmoving. Likewise, while it is pleasing that the intimate relationship between Isagel and Mimaroben is accepted and not condemned, the bond between the women and their child feels underdeveloped.

    Moreover, it becomes hard to care about the film’s characters because they are more symbols and cyphers than actual people. Consider Mimaroben’s first roommate (Anneli Martini), a wise, older woman known as the astronomer, who is as cold and unfeeling as the spaceship’s design.

    That said, the film’s visuals are impressive, particularly since Aniara has a relatively low budget. The special effects, from birds disintegrating in the sky, to the design of the spacecraft and the futuristic images that populate various screens in Mira Hall or elsewhere, are quite stimulating.

    The performances are uneven. Emelie Johnsson is sympathetic as Mimaroben, and she has a number of impassioned scenes and expressive moments, including a piercing meltdown. However, the film has too many didactic moments where her character serves as a guide for viewers to follow the action. In support, Bianca Cruzeiro is suitably enigmatic as the alluring Isagel, a woman who mostly represses her emotions. She becomes more interesting once she becomes a mother, but Cruzeiro is hampered by a script that does not sufficiently flesh out her character.

    This drawback is indicative of the film’s greatest flaw: the drama overall is just too low-key. Aniara fails to generate sufficient interest in its drama; even the discussion of the ship being rescued is only briefly interesting. Viewers, like the characters aboard the transport ship, may just find themselves waiting, patiently, or with resignation, for it to all come to an end.

    © 2019 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer