First on the Moon

A favorite from SIFF ’06, this ingenious, straight-faced Russian fake-umentary maintains that a Soviet spacecraft was launched in 1938 after years of secret development—all of it filmed. Accordingly, the movie is mostly comprised of black-and-white newsreel footage, some genuine, some expertly distressed as if on old film stock. (No computer effects were employed.) There are interviews with a few ancient surviving cosmonauts about their training—The Right Stuff with laughable methods but boundless patriotism, as we witness. Applicants run a foot race wearing gas masks and are sprayed with ice-cold water. One’s even a dwarf—to save weight and use less rocket fuel! Drawing on insect anatomy and coal-fired power, this covert space program has its heroes, like Yuri Gagarin a quarter-century too soon, but the war and politics suppress its triumphant story. “Mankind doesn’t learn,” warns an aged crewman. “There is no such thing as progress—technical or moral.” Moon’s charmingly comic premise thus turns into a more typically Russian and pessimistic fable, where the stars beckon and the system crushes.

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