Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Orbiter 9

Satellite Of Love

Orbiter 9
Spain/Columbia 2017
Directed by Hatem Khraiche

Warning: First of all, do not make the same mistake I made and watch the trailer for this movie before seeing it. It gives away the big twist of the story for the sake of marketing purposes. Secondly, yes this review will also have the same spoilers because, with a film like this, it seems a somewhat fruitless exercise to not be able to discuss what the film is really about. So, again, if you’ve not seen this movie, maybe just watch it before reading this review.

Helena was born in space.

Played by the wonderful Clara Lago, she is now in her 20s but her parents fled the spaceship three years before after a malfunction became apparent in the oxygen systems. They knew she would have more of a chance to make it to a place where a humanoid ‘repair robot’, sent out years ago in case of these kinds of emergencies, would be able to rendezvous with her before the air eventually ran out and so be able to fix her systems.So they sacrifice themselves for her.

With only 1% of her oxygen left, she docks with the capsule carrying the repair robot/artificial human known as Alex (played by Álex González) who informs her that he has only 50 hours of his own control before he has to leave in his ship and recharge... or some such. After fixing her systems, Helena initiates sexual liaisons with Alex because she has never known the touch of another person (not counting her parents). After Alex has left, she is once more left to her lonely existence, heading towards the planet which she and hopefully others will arrive at and colonise as an alternative to the dying Earth her parents left behind decades ago.

Except... when Alex leaves we follow him through the airlock, past some plumbing and out in the forest where the Orbiter 9 ‘prison/science lab’, one of ten, has been built to enable the lie, to its human guinea pigs, of their existence... to study the effects of humans born in the kind of radiation they can expect to find when the doomed population of our planet are actually able to, in 20 or so years time, have the advanced technology to be able to take the trip for real.

Of course, after making love to Helena, Alex’s conscience begins to bother him and the once rational scientist fully realises the moral dilemma of these people born into captivity that the government are secretly experimenting on... the long term plan to let the ‘passengers’ die on their capsules when their natural life comes to an end... floating in space, or rather, prisoners in an underground bunker.

And that, of course, is where everything goes wrong for all the characters, as Alex fools the system and frees Helena, introducing her to the world around her and having to deal with other, more deadly consequences of his actions.

Orbiter 9 is written and directed by Hatem Khraiche and it’s a bit of a corker. I only wish I hadn’t seen the trailer which gives away the fact that the first scenes take place in an artificially created environment and that Helena is really on Earth because I reckon this one might well have taken me by surprise. Khraiche plays the cards very close to his chest in this one and the beautifully shot, sterile, Kubrickian-like environment of Orbiter 9 is perfectly and leisurely paced to set the audience up for a surprise when the rug is pulled from under them around 20 - 25 minutes into the film. At the same time, he doesn’t overstate the revelation that Helena is on Earth with either the performance from Álex González or by enhancing the twist with any camera tricks. True, the score by Federico Jusid becomes a little bit icier, just short of sinister but, as I implied earlier, things are never overplayed and there are no heavy musical stingers, as such.

Much of the movie when Helena gets out of Orbiter 9 - which is when Khraiche does use camera effects like disoriented hand held, bleached out shots for a while to give us an appreciation of her psychological reaction to finding out the life she has been living is a lie - is in contrast to the sterile environment of her former ‘lodgings’ and a lot of it is set at night time, to show up the contrast between the two. Indeed, the director has stated that a scene where Alex shows Helena how to use chopsticks at a neon lit, rain drenched diner is a homage to the opening of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (reviewed here) and there are also some moments where a Mario Bava /Dario Argento style of lighting is utilised as planes of red, pink and green are pitched together in the shot compositions.

The performances are all good and even smaller roles like Alex’s ‘shrink’ Silvia (played brilliantly by Belén Rueda, who was so good in films like The Orphanage, reviewed here and Julia’s Eyes reviewed here) and his less than one dimensional, unwillingly villainous boss Hugo, played by Andrés Parra... are very nicely written and performed, making the film a joy to watch and populated by characters who are very easy to believe in.

My one, very slight criticism, is that once Helena is out of Orbiter 9, the ending of the film is very easy to figure out and, although it’s an entertaining journey to the final scenes, this part of the film was entirely predictable. That being said, there is a little more to the ending than you might be reasonably expected to guess and, in just the same way that the characters are not entirely stereotypical in their psychological make-up, there is a ray of hope and sense of collaboration for the future of mankind in the final few shots of the film.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about Orbiter 9. A nice, well written, well performed and directed slice of modern Spanish sci-fi which is well worth the time of any science fiction fan. Definitely give this one a go.

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