Welcome to vintage futuristic Russia. Where stereotypical house robots stroll around bleeping and people go to their jobs on distant planets. Where an intergalactic female immigrant, who has curly white hair and behaves very nervously, is found in outer space and brought back to earth. Where unforseen events, following her initial domestic adventures, will lead a space crew into the uncharted territories of her far away home planet.
Whenever there’s a sci-si/fantasy film festival doing a special around virtually untraceable movies, in this case the Offscreen Film Festival in Belgium, you simply must attend it as much as possible. Because where else will you ever be offered the chance to see titles like ‘To the Stars by Hard Ways’ (aka ‘Humanoid Woman’). The festival scheduled a theme around sci-fi movies from behind the Iron Curtain and, amongst more commonly known classics like the original ‘Solaris’ (1972) and ‘In the Dust of Stars’ (1978) , they showed this peculiar but strangely poetic and compelling space allegory that consists of three main chapters. The film is set in futuristic Russia, where stereotypical house robots stroll around bleeping and people go to their jobs on distant planets. An outer space mission brings back an intergalactic female immigrant who has curly white hair and behaves very nervously. The lead astronaut decides to take her into his house for research and to introduce her to earthly hospitality.
The first chapter of ‘To the Stars by Hard Ways‘ focusses on the girl, Niya (Yelena Metyolkina), integrating with her new family. She becomes friends with the astronaut’s mother and adolescent son and learns about jealousy when she meets his girlfriend. In spite of her relatively happy new life, Niya has unclear but nightmarish flashbacks about what happened on her own planet. The tone of this first chapter is moody but tolerably sentimental. It’s like a futuristic soap opera, but from the Soviet Union. The second chapter depicts the space trip to Niya’s home planet Dessa. The nightmares and flashbacks stimulated her to slip aboard as a stowaway during Stepan’s first official mission as an astronaut. The second chapter really is nothing more than a transition between the sequences on earth and on a distant planet. The middle section is rather dull and contains quite a few irrelevant and unnecessary comical interludes, like dropping off a passenger on his home planet called Ocean. He’s a watery blubber thing who lives in a washing machine and is petrified of cats. The third and final chapter is the most interesting for genre fans, as it concerns pure and genuine sci-si full of desolate apocalyptic landscapes, malignant looking alien races and features an uncanny atmosphere throughout. Niya’s planet Dessa has become uninhabitable due to a massive industrial catastrophe while the tyrannical rulers, called the Turanchoks, are selling clean oxygen at high prices. The final chapter of ‘To the Stars by Hard Ways’ is exciting, often unsettling and very absorbing.
It’s a bit of a shame that this film received many harshly negative comments on the internet. But this comments are mainly talking about the notorious MST3K-treatment that the movie itself received in the late 80′s. Now, I’m as much a fan of MST3K as anyone else, but there’s a lot more underneath this film’s campy surface and it deserves some deeper analysis. People are complaining about the horrible dubbing, the terrible music, the cheap and campy special effects – which actually do vary in quality throughout the film – and the bad acting performances. I beg to differ on practically all points. Another major advantage about seeing this type of movies at a festival is that the organizers respect cinema enough to seek for a 35mm version in the original language. Personally I liked the psychedelic music tunes and the special effects. Well, … naturally they’re not very groundbreaking or on par with the contemporary super popular ‘Star Wars’ franchise, but what do you expect from a film from a politically and hermetically sealed off country with a cinema culture very different than that of the Western world.
‘To the Stars by Hard Ways’ is primarily a very ambitious story-driven movie, from the hand of the acclaimed Russian novelist Kir Bulychyov and directed by Richard & Nicolai Viktorov with great devotion and passion for science fiction in general. The acting is terrific, especially from the central figure Yelena Metyolkina who made her first ever screen appearance in this film. ‘To the Stars by Hard Ways’ definitely isn’t without flaws, but it’s a captivating experience that forces you to switch on your brain functions as well as all your senses. Recommended, but please watch the original version or the respectfully restored 2001 version (it features subtly enhanced special effects and an updated musical score).
Watch the discovery of Humanoid Woman in a clip on YouTube.