Sunday, September 23, 2018

ORBITER 9 (Órbita 9, 2017)

For an Anglophone moviegoer it's a novelty to see space exploration carried out in Spanish. This isn't some implausible chauvinism on the part of writer-director Hatem Khraiche, as he tells us eventually that Spain is just one of  four countries involved in the preparation of pioneer voyages to the planet Celeste, a goldilocks world that offers the only hope of survival for the people of an increasingly polluted Earth. A young Spanish woman, Helena (Clara Lago) is the sole crewmember of one of the family-sized colony ships. Stalled by an oxygen malfunction, she has waited for a repair ship for three years since her parents apparently sacrificed themselves to extend her oxygen supply. At last, Alex the engineer (Alex Gonzalez) arrives to fix the problem. He has only 50 hours of "autonomy" to do the job; after that, Helena will have another 20 years on her own before she reaches her destination. Alex is the first human being other than her parents that she's ever seen. Five minutes in you can guess the direction the picture will take, but your movie brain should tell you that that's probably too soon to jump to conclusions.  It may not surprise you to learn that Alex has some alarming secrets, and that his interaction with Helena will put both people in danger as they edge toward revolt against a manipulative government's plans. Órbita 9 is ultimately more of a thriller than an all-out sci-fi film, but the sort of dystopia that forms its backdrop does tend to lend itself to thriller plots. I've probably now made it sound like a rather conventional movie, and I suppose it is that, superficially speaking. But the lead actors put it over with convincing displays of moral indignation, with Gonzalez adding a level of guilty torment over his role in a past failed experiment. The romance angle is a little much, taking the ending almost to a fairy-tale level, but then again, this is, for all its trendy pessimism, a fantasy film that ends on an odd note of reconciliation, given the seemingly unforgivable ruthlessness the head scientist showed earlier in the picture. At 95 minutes it seems scrupulous about not overstaying its welcome, even if it strikes you a Twilight Zone episode opened out and padded to feature length. Thanks to Netflix I didn't have to go out of my way to see this, so I don't feel that I can hold much against it.

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