Review: ANIARA Gets Lost In Its Poetry

A scene from ANIARA, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Aniara is a new Swedish sci-fi film written and directed by Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja based on a poem by Harry Martinson. The movie follows the passengers of a spacecraft carrying settlers to Mars when it is knocked off course, creating a significant rift within the community. It debuted at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

For a sci-fi film, Aniara has a surprisingly (and effectively) straightforward plot. A majority of the story beats occurring in the beginning, with the rest of the movie exploring the reactions of the characters. The conflict in the rest of the film takes the form of subplots that were caused by main story. Some of these are more interesting and fully explored than others, but the movie is mostly compelling as a whole.

The character development in the film is somewhat challenging, especially when put up against the straightforward plot. Most of the supporting characters are quite flat and archetypal, tying into what the movie has to say about society. That being said, the most interesting character in the film is not the protagonist, but a sentient and seemingly omniscient organism called the mima. These parts of the story are definitely the most intriguing and thought-provoking.

However, despite the fact that the movie has interesting ideas, none of these ideas really results into anything substantial or unique. The commentary that the film has on society is pretty obvious and ground that has been treaded by plenty of sci-fi movies and literature before. The film explores how relationships begin to collapse and people begin to turn against each other when hope is lost. It just does so in a way that is mostly entertaining.

Emilie Jonsson and Bianca Cruzeiro in ANIARA, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

The movie’s biggest issue is its pacing. The film was adapted from a poem, and this is evident in the end result, as the movie ends up feeling almost like a visual poem of sorts. There is a particular rhythm to the film, much like there is in poetry, and this is what helps the movie move along. Unfortunately, sometimes this rhythm does begin to be a bit too much. There are multiple points at which there will be a time jump just as the narrative begins to pick up steam.

The actors do a solid job in their, although few of them are asked to do anything of tremendous range. The lead actress, Emelie Jonsson, is extremely impressive for the first half of the film. In this portion, her performance is very subtle and nuanced, infusing some much-needed emotion into the otherwise mostly cold movie. However, in the later half of the film when the chaos starts mounting, she loses that subtlety and instead opts for something more direct.

On a technical level, the movie is great. We don’t hear a ton about the Swedish film industry, but the production values of this movie are undoubtedly extremely high. This goes a long way in immersing you in the film’s world, which is particularly important given the fact that it is a sci-fi movie. The visual effects feel very old-school, but in a way that feels classy, not bad or cheesy.

Overall, Aniara was an interesting sci-fi film that doesn’t always pay off on its potential. It is worth watching for the awe-inspiring visuals alone, but genre fans are sure to find something to love in it.

Aniara hits theaters and VOD on May 17.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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