Panorama | Documentaries
Baikonur was the home of the Soviet Space Program, and its Cosmodrome the world’s first and largest operational space launch facility. It is now—with the retirement of the American Space Shuttle program—the only place where astronauts and cosmonauts from any nation are launched into space to rendezvous with the International Space Station. This near-dialogue-free documentary by Andrea Sorini, practically all of whose images are absolutely spectacular, begins as an awe-inducing look at the ruined architecture and surrealist sights of the Kyzylorda Region in Kazakhstan, home to Baikonur and the infamous dried up Aral Sea (one startling fact—the sea is returning!). Soon, seemingly random shots—gorgeous in their formal rigour and compositional beauty—reveal a structure: from the general—the exotic strangeness of the region (where a herd of cows populates a colourful modernist bus stop and camels idly wander the streets) and the remnants and ruins of the old space program—to the particular—the ongoing use of the space centre and the launch of a manned rocket heading to the ISS.
Interspersed are single and group portraits of local people and some very dry humour: a karaoke bar bathed in blue light where an awful singer is holding court; the local Orthodox priest blessing the media attending the launch and dousing them (and the film crew and camera lens) with what seems like many litres of holy water… In short, Sorini has fashioned a remarkable work that extends the boundaries of the documentary form.