Saturday, 4 August 2018

Taming Of The Fire (1972 Soviet film)

I was recently pointed towards this movie and, having greatly enjoyed a couple of Andrei Tarkovsky's pictures, decided to watch another example of Soviet cinema from the Seventies.

Taming Of The Fire chronicles the progress of the Soviet rocket, missile and spaceflight programs, mostly through the lead character, who is quite clearly based on Sergei Korolev.  Names were changed, presumably in the interests of secrecy.

This is quite a long film, but it pretty quickly grabbed my attention.  This was due in part to the way in which the subject matter is handled, and also by the superb, believable and sympathetic performance by Kirill Lavrov in the lead role. 

The visuals are stunning in places, and the atmospheric music also contributes to a welcoming ambience. In addition, the producers evidently had access to real facilities and installations, which tended to augment the realism somewhat!  This meant that the film could contain "real" launches of rockets and missiles.

One thing which did concern me early on was that the movie occasionally jumped forward in time, with little or no explanation. However, my fears were gradually allayed, as the chronology becomes clearer and less confusing, especially in the sequences which follow the end of World War Two.

A dimension of the movie which intrigued me was the way in which disagreements within the Soviet Union were portrayed. Also, there is the odd subtle dig at "the system". My interpretation was that there was comparatively little in the way of Cold War points-scoring going on here, and at times the tone was genuinely of the "progress of mankind in general" variety. An optimistic approach, which some Westerners should perhaps bear in mind.

There are some interesting sub-plots, none of which are that original, but bear consideration. The age-old tensions between scientists and bureaucrats, idealists and pragmatists, the visionary and the practical, are presented in the form of discussions between the lead character and his political and military superiors. 

In parallel with his momentous achievements in his chosen profession, we see the unsteady and awkward course of Bashkirtsev's personal life. I must admit that I found these parts of the film less interesting, but they presumably serve to demonstrate the difficulty which many brilliant people experience in maintaining basic human relationships and handling complex emotions, and balancing professional fulfillment with other aspects of life .  By contrast, the certainties of science must seem straightforward and comforting.

Overall, I found this to be an excellent film, technically very good, and Lavrov adroitly conveys the driven, restless and visionary nature of the character, with the attendant pressures and strains. 

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