What does a retro, communist space drama look like? It’s hard to say. Most films produced during the Cold War never made it past the Iron Curtain.
That is, until now. IKARIE XB-1, a Czech sci-fi film from 1963, is getting a re-release with a new 4K restoration and will stream with Film Forum starting December 4.
It has been a rare gem, indeed. It didn’t resurface digitally until British distribution company Second Run released a Blu-ray version in 2013. In 2016, Cannes Film Festival selected it as part of their Cannes Classic selection, framing it as inspiration Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a throwback to the days of communist, sci-fi space dramas (which are few and far between).
IKARIE XB-1 is based on a 1955 novel by Polish writer Stanisław Lem called The Magellanic Cloud. It follows a large group of astronauts who fly through outer space on a 15-year journey to the star Alpha Centauri, which they refer to as White Planet in the year 2163.
There are a few differences between the film and the book. The cast is smaller (it’s a group of 40 astronauts, not 227). It’s aesthetically arty. And it became a mouthpiece for socialist realism, more so than the writer originally intended, depicting conformity as a kind of perfection. Any capitalistic overtones are abhorred, as we see in the film.