Believe it or not, the Cold War didn't burn hot everywhere. Communists were once a normal part of the landscape in, say, Winnipeg ... and Italy.
Cosmonaut is an offbeat and touching story of a teenage girl and her brother in '60s Italy, the products of a family of activists at a time when the communists had an outside chance of at least being part of a coalition government.
As such, the Italian Communist Youth League is something of a community centre for the earnest Luciana (Marianna Raschilla), so much so that her best "frenemy" from school decides to join with her because it seems like a place to meet cute boys.
For her part, Luciana, and her adored, maladroit, epilepsy-stricken brother Arturo (Pietro Del Giudice) share an obsession with the Soviet space program that dates back to their childhoods and the launch of Sputnik. They memorize every Vostok mission, and Luciana dreams about the day a woman will be sent in space. (Director Susanna Nicchiarelli punctuates the film with the familiar beepy ship-to-Earth communication noises and crackles, and footage of various Russian space missions, and times the last act with the groundbreaking launch of woman cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova.)
Their obsession makes them misanthropes in the Youth League that is their second home. Arturo is considered a geek, and is bullied. And Luciana is not taken seriously and subjected to piggish comments in a milieu that is clearly chauvinist, despite all the rhetoric of comrades and equality. "They ignore me, and when I say something they like, they pretend it's their idea," she complains.
Nobody really buys the notion that the space program is symbolic of anything, leaving Luciana and Arturo alone in their excited space talk.
Human nature, however, begins to unravel their microcosmic communist utopia. Luciana plays with the affections of a dutiful, overweight young comrade, while lusting after one of the young speech-making firebrands (who, in turn, is snogging the aforementioned frenemy). Disruptive sexual politics is dismaying enough for the adult communist mentors Leonarda and Marisa (Angelo Orlando and director Nicchiarelli) but the dogma really hits the fan when some of the kids take it upon themselves to vandalize the headquarters of the hated Socialists, attracting the interest of the police.
Meanwhile, back at home, Luciana and Arturo's widowed mother (Claudia Pandolfi) has married a decided non-leftist authoritarian, who takes a dim view of communist social activities for teenage girls.
It all seems headed for some kind of tragic flashpoint, but, as a director, Nicchiarelli is not that kind of drama queen. Cosmonaut is a slice-of-life film from a time and place now lost. It places the template of teen soap opera against the kind of idealism that once fueled the embrace of communism (the theoretical kind of communism at least, where everything works out splendidly).
And as Luciana's missteps prove, Marxism isn't the only thing in life that doesn't necessarily work out as planned.
(This film is rated 14A)
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