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First Gagarin film turns Soviet idol into new Russian hero

Posted June 19, 2013

Strapped in an orange suit in his spaceship, Yuri Gagarin smiles as the rockets roar and chirpily tells mission control: “Let’s go!”

A new Russian film—”Gagarin. First Man in Space”—is the first full biopic on the pioneering cosmonaut ever to be released in Russia or the Soviet Union.

Until now, Gagarin’s 108-minute orbit of the Earth in 1961 appeared almost too hallowed a subject to be tackled in drama. But the state-subsidised film has been made amid a new drive for patriotic cinema as post-Soviet Russia looks for heroes.

It recreates Gagarin’s pioneering space voyage in detail and also tries to reveal something of the man who became a Soviet legend: his childhood, family life in the cosmonaut training centre at Star City and his rivals for the number one role.

But critics have complained the film failed to portray a rounded flesh-and-blood figure, instead portraying a person so perfect that Gagarin loses all traces of human character.

“Any humanity is carefully hidden from us. We stop believing at all in the existence of the person named Gagarin,” wrote Ogonyok weekly magazine.

The cosmonaut is shown as a virtually flawless figure: he thoughtfully buys his wife flowers, he carefully swaddles his baby daughter and he flashes a white-toothed smile after being tested with G-forces at Star City.

The director Pavel Parkhomenko “made a deadly retro film as if he was turning a feature from (Soviet mouthpiece daily) Pravda into a film”, said one reviewer on the TV channel Rain.

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