by Vassilis Economou
- TORONTO 2018: Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja’s feature debut is a nihilistic ode to humankind’s existentialism, as the apocalypse edges closer than ever
Swedish directorial duo Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja have been working together for over ten years. In 2010, they collaborated on the award-winning short The Unliving, and the following year, they co-directed The Swedish Supporter. For the past few years, they have been developing ANIARA [+see also:
film profile], their debut feature, which has had its world premiere in the Discovery section of the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival.
After laying waste to Earth, the remaining human population is launching several ships into space to transport settlers to their new home, Mars. ANIARA is one of these spaceships, which guarantees a three-week, carefree, luxurious trip to the final destination. Built to resemble an immense shopping mall, ANIARA offers all the requisite services to keep a deeply consumerist, destructive society satisfied. Their only connection to Earth is a special room, run by MR (Emelie Jonsson), where a sentient computer gathers people’s memories and allows them to re-experience moments from their home planet.
Everything seems to be running smoothly until an accident knocks ANIARA off course. Having lost all her fuel and with the steering disabled, it’s almost impossible for the ship to reach Mars. As time passes, the emotional and psychological needs of the passengers increase, and instead of shopping, they demand MR’s services more and more often – especially when they realise it is quite possible that they will be condemned to drift around the endless void of space forever.
Scripted by Kågerman and Lilja, ANIARA is the first film adaptation of the epic science-fiction poem of the same name by Swedish Nobel laureate Harry Martinson. Consisting of 103 cantos and written in 1956, in the midst of the Cold War and in the aftermath of Hiroshima, Aniara was a post-apocalyptic projection of humanity’s existential future, as everything was seemingly on a downward spiral to demise. Inspired by the poem’s premise, the directors lay bare their fears about modern-day global threats, such as climate change. Like ANIARA’s passengers, humankind is still being driven blindly by the power of consumerism, unwilling to make any significant changes and, like the spacecraft, unable to change course.
Adopting a more philosophical approach, with a touch of science fiction, the story is narrated from a completely pragmatic and contemporary point of view. The events and the characters don’t look so radically different from today’s world; it is only technology that sets the two time periods apart. To intensify this feeling, and despite the post-apocalyptic and dystopian nature of ANIARA, everything takes place in realistic spaces, as actual shopping malls and ferries were used as settings. Aside from the apparent cost-effectiveness when it came to production, this decision was also a statement on the feeling of familiarity that the viewer should experience while watching the film. Nothing seems particularly futuristic, as everything has been constructed to symbolise the current status of civilisation. ANIARA could only really be depicted as a typical flagship cruise liner containing humankind’s most important heritage: commercial products and shops.
Teetering between a dry satire on our modern lifestyle and a terrifying horror with vivid sci-fi elements, ANIARA successfully manages to shift between different subjects and stimulate viewers’ awareness and curiosity – after all, Earth is already on the road to ruin.
ANIARA is a Swedish co-production by Annika Rogell (Meta Film Stockholm Production) with Moretti Films, Viaplay, the Film Capital Stockholm Fund, Gotlands Filmfond and Ljud & Bildmedia. It was made in conjunction with SVT and Vice. London-based Film Constellation is handling the world sales, and the movie will be distributed in Scandinavia by SF Studios in early 2019.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.