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Space Tourists -- Film Review

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PARK CITY -- Even us Baby Boomers who got advanced math shoved down our throats in the wake of Yuri Gagarin's trek aboard Sputnik, and couldn't care less about outer space, will be entertained by this spry, melancholy glimpse into the last half-century's race to space. "Space Tourists' " informative and engaging trajectory should land it on cable somewhere: History and Discovery come to mind as orbit platforms.

If you've got $20 million set aside for your next vacation, you can sign up to hop aboard a Russian rocket and get lifted into the wild not-so-blue yonder. That's what dreamer Anousheh Ansari has shelled out for her lifelong dream vacation. In this wry and inspiring documentary, filmmaker Christian Frei concentrates on her trek to live her dream, from the rigors of the Russian space school located in Star City, somewhere on the dark side of Kazakhstan boondocks, to her eventual re-entry to the boondocks of Mother Earth.

Told through the narration of a young Norwegian man attempting to connect with his Russian heritage, "Space Tourists" is alternately gloomy and balmy: In essence, it visualizes the failure of Communism. We see the ugly ruins of government apartments, which during the Khrushchev we-will-bury-you era, housed thousands of engineers and top scientists. It's now a ghost town, shut down by Gorbachev and creaking toward "Mad Max" ruination.

With its nicely languid story loopings, including a team of scrap metal scavengers who retrieve the re-entry detritus for its precious titanium, "Space Tourists" is a multi-dimensional glimpse into dreams and obsessions. Filmmaker Frei smartly interweaves the pride that many felt because of the space program's accomplishments while visualizing its down-to-earth, economic failings.

Cinematographer Peter Indergand's scopings are expressively accented by the fine editing of Frei and Andreas Winterstein: The images, glorious and crude, butt against each other -- evocative of this Quixotic quest. The film's spare musical score is also ascendant, courtesy of composers Jan Garbarek, Edward Artemyev and Steve Reich.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival
Sales: Films Transit International
Production companies: Christian Frei Productions GMBH in co-production with Swiss National Television, ZDF/Arte and Suissimage
Cast: Anousheh Ansari, Jonas Bendiksen, Dumitru Popescu, Charles Simonyi
Director-producer: Christian Frei
Director of photography: Peter Indergand
Music: Jan Garbarek, Edward Artemyev, Steve Reich
Editors: Christian Frei, Andreas Winterstein
No rating, 100 minutes