In the midst of the Cold War in the 1960s, a cosmonaut named Alexander orbits in space, adrift around the earth in his space capsule. He has lost all navigation and communication systems, and he will soon lose his life-support systems.
Alexander soon discovers an Italian radio frequency where a Sicilian radio engineer named Alvaro is working the night shift. The two men form an intense bond as they work through the night and Alexander reckons with the journey that led to the space capsule in the first place.
But as Alexander drifts away, the newfound friendship between the men may not last the night, and help Alexander find his way home.
Writer-director Andrej Landin takes a meditative, thoughtful tone in his sci-fi short about the mythic "lost cosmonauts" that were a supposed casualty of the so-called "space race" between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to be the first to send a human in space.
The story has the plot points and development of a thriller, with its elements of space travel and potential disaster. But the beautifully considered craftsmanship and pacing are steady, introspective and measured, with an emphasis on emotional resonance. The images have an elegiac power, full of natural beauty, light and texture, emphasizing just how rich life on earth can be.
Alexander's memories of his training -- and a particular love affair with a fellow trainee named Tanya -- suffuse the film throughout via flashbacks, bathed in the golden hues of warmth and contentment. It can be hard for shorts to integrate flashbacks into the storytelling, but these memories form the sociopolitical context of the story, as well as the emotional core of the film -- and give viewers a palpable sense of loss once we realize just what Alexander is losing as he floats in space.
Through the understated dialogue and the equally subtle, resonant performances that bring it to life, Alexander's bond with Alvaro forms his final, last attachment -- one that helps him come to terms with his fate, appreciate the richness of the life he has to leave behind and find meaning in the sacrifice that he made before he left earth.
"Into the Silent Sea" falls into a rich tradition of sci-fi films that use the vacuum of space and the unthinkable breadth of the cosmos as rich metaphors for the human condition, in all its ultimate helplessness and solitude. It takes its time to tell its story and develop its characters, but the result is a moving, emotionally immersive cinematic experience that tells an unusually full and complete story, with an ending that is bittersweet in its wisdom. As Alexander says, "We live as we dream... alone." But we do carry the richness of memories and love within us, providing some comfort in our final journeys.