Review- Mission: Sputnik

One of the cornerstone moments in world history, at least during my upbringing, was the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and subsequently the Eastern Bloc. It was one of the first significant moments I was witness to on live television (and one of the early coups of the 24-hour-news network). As a child I understood its significance but its oncoming always seemed a bit of a mystery. What lead up to it all. Later, I would learn that it was nearly as sudden as it seemed.

It’s with such a youthful kind of eye that Mission: Sputnik tells its tale about children in the waining days of the Berlin Wall’s dividing Germany. The two keys to its success are the whimsy with which the tale is conveyed and the cloistered nature of the central characters; siphoning them from the adult/outside world allows them to believe more wondrous things are happening than actually are.

What this all alludes to is the mission that Frederike (Flora Thiemann) embarks on when her uncle Mike (Jacob Matschenz) is expelled from the GDR. She decides to amp up her experiments with teleportation to bring him back home with the help of her friends, with the backdrop of the Stasi cracking down on her hometown leading up to the town festival, which coincidentally falls on November 9th, 1989.

These experiments are inspired by an East German sci-fi show the kids watch, and allows a great balance in this film between childlike belief and innocence and perception. Another balancing act that occurs is between the comedic, fanciful aspect and the more dramatic moments with regards to fleeing East Berlin and the consequences of staying in town.

While there are clearly tropes at play here in this film it’s how they’re implemented here and what they play up against that make a majority of the difference between this film and standard family fare is made. Clearly, any film stretching the limits (at least a bit) of suspension of disbelief not only needs the proper touches in scoring, the editing room and direction, but also needs standouts in the cast. You get that here with the parents Yvonne Catterfeld and Maxim Mehmet and the kids Thiemann, Finn Fiebig, Luca Johanssen and Emil von Schönfels.

Another testament to this film is that despite the running time being brisk, coming in under 90 minutes, it does not feel too short or contradictorily languid. Its pacing is right on the money. This allows the film to be quick and enjoyable while the treatment and themes elevate it, giving it substance and fancy.

More often than not it is in our fictions that our histories live. Our fictions do not define our histories but they do pass them on and begin the discussions with future generations. The children playing the central characters in this film were likely not born in the 20th century, but are conveying a tale set against the fall of the Berlin Wall to their generation, and perhaps future ones. It’s a film worthy of starting the discussion because of how it treats the subject with a childish gaze of half-understanding through a maelstrom of oncoming sociopolitical upheaval.

9/10

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Sociopolitical Overview (Part 2 of 17)

When we think of the 90s socio-politically you can almost draw a parallel to the kind of films that were produced. With Clinton in office the stock market more than doubled it was prosperity galore and yet there was a generation (Generation X followed by Y, how original) that could care less. There were hardly any films that reflected the times we were in because that would be bourgeois, no one really cared they had money in their pocket. Yet there was also nothing to escape unless you count the laughable Lewinsky affair, so film stagnated aside from the occasional blip here and there.

While the 80s were not like the 60s in that there was a constant issue constantly looming over everyone like the Vietnam War. There were several crucial events in America’s history. Films are the products of our society and the people writing those films for the most part came of age in the 60s and thus, had a higher social consciousness than those who grew up in the culturally devoid 70s.

Being children of the 60s coupled with the fact that escapist family oriented cinema was in demand for a great part of the decade lead to many of these films having a lot of pie-in-the-sky idealism in them.

The 80s socially and politically were a mess. There was always something. New York was a crime-ridden dirty hole, which is reflected to some extent Ghostbusters. At the beginning of the decade there was the hostage crisis and the decade ended with the beginning of the communist collapse. While there were many crises and negative events there was a national sentiment in the nation and a presentiment that gave people a feeling that we could change things, amid all the excesses of the ‘me generation’ there was Hands Across America, Farm Aid and Artists for Africa which were movements by musicians that we could change the world and films like Amazing Grace and Chuck reflect that sentiment.

It was undoubtedly a turbulent time but there was a wind of change in the air. Reagan’s short-sightedness in his term is paralleled by the studio heads. Reagan wanted to give the taxpayers a break immediately and it hurt in the long run while the studios wanted money immediately and slowly the quality of films they were producing would dwindle. Thankfully, the quality did keep coming out until the end of the decade. The political conditions were all aligned for good, even great films to be made. Great films never come out in abundance when the nation is affluent. Pre-packaged hit-me films do, the 80s were a great time to grow up in because you probably weren’t aware of all that was going on around you. Yet I do recall seeing the possibility for change and seeing that something good can occur in this world and I saw it plastered across a large silver screen every weekend.

 Note: This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school. It will be published here in installments. You can read part one here.

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Sociopolitical Overview (Part 2 of 17)

Photo Credit: Peter Turnley/Corbis, The epitome of hope in the 80s: The fall of the Berlin Wall

When we think of the 90s sociopolitically you can almost draw a parallel to the kind of films that were produced. With Clinton in office the stock market more than doubled it was prosperity galore and yet there was a generation (Generation X followed by Y, how original) that could care less. There were hardly any films that reflected the times we were in because that would be bourgeois, no one really cared they had money in their pocket. Yet there was also nothing to escape unless you count the laughable Lewinsky affair, so film stagnated aside from the occasional blip here and there.

While the 80s were not like the 60s in that there was an issue constantly looming over everyone like the Vietnam War. There were several crucial events in America’s history. Films are the products of our society and the people writing those films for the most part came of age in the 60s and thus, had a higher social consciousness than those who grew up in the culturally devoid 70s.

Being children of the 60s coupled with the fact that escapist family-oriented cinema was in demand for a great part of the decade lead to many of these films having a lot of pie-in-the-sky idealism in them.
The 80s socially and politically were a mess. There was always something. New York was a crime-ridden dirty hole, which is reflected in Ghostbusters, and to some extent Trading Places. At the beginning of the decade there was the hostage crisis and the decade ended with the beginning of the communist collapse. While there were many crises and negative events there was a national sentiment in the nation and a presentiment that gave people a feeling that we could change things, amid all the excesses of the ‘me generation’ there was Hands Across America, Farm Aid and Artists for Africa which were movements by musicians that we could change the world and films like Amazing Grace and Chuck reflect that sentiment.

It was undoubtedly a turbulent time but there was a wind of change in the air. Reagan’s short-sightedness in his term is paralleled by the studio heads. Reagan wanted to give the taxpayers a break immediately and it hurt in the long run while the studios wanted money immediately and slowly the quality of films they were producing would dwindle. Thankfully, the quality did keep coming out until the end of the decade. The political conditions were all aligned for good, even great films to be made. Great films never come out in abundance when the nation is affluent. Pre-packaged hit-me films do, the 80s were a great time to grow up in because you probably weren’t aware of all that was going on around you. Yet I do recall seeing the possibility for change and seeing that something good can occur in this world and I saw it plastered across a large silver screen every weekend.

Note: This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school. It will be published here in installments. This is part two you can read part one here.