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Aelita, Queen of Mars

USSR 1924. Dir: Yakov Protazanov. 80 min. DCP

The most celebrated Soviet film until Battleship Potemkin — and the world’s first-ever feature about interplanetary travel — is an extravagant wonder of Russian Constructivist decor and costume. Based on a novel by Alexei Tolstoy, and directed by the prolific Yakov Protazanov (whose The Tailor from Torzhok also screens in the series), this futuristic fantasy has a half-mad Moscow engineer, a Red Army soldier, and a bungling amateur detective rocketing off to Mars. The Red Planet, they discover, is ruled by the autocratic but seductive Queen Aelita, whom the engineer promptly falls for, while the soldier attempts to foment a Soviet-style revolution. The film’s fast-paced comic plot takes a backseat to the out-of-this-world design. Aelita is perhaps second only to Lang’s Metropolis as the most influential science-fiction movie of the silent era.