In 1968, Stanley Kubrick’s classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, ushered in a new kind of science fiction movie. Monsters from other planets and war-minded invaders took a back seat to a more cerebral approach to the future. Actions became less important than ideas, and ideas could be expressed in the most abstract terms imaginable. This was a good thing for filmmakers in communist countries for two reasons: First, it meant they could make films that might compete with Hollywood where state-of-the-art effects were no longer the most important thing (although, Hollywood never did really learn this lesson; perhaps because Space Odyssey did have state-of-the-art effects). Second, it meant they could explore ideas that strayed away from communist doctrine without coming up against the review boards.
DEFA had already ventured into the realm of thoughtful science fiction with its 1960 release of The Silent Star (Der schweigende Stern), but that film still used the conventions of 1950s science fiction, even if its message (that all mankind should join together for the common good of the human race) was relatively under-represented at the time. East Germany’s first foray into post-Space Odyssey science fiction film was Signale – Ein Weltraumabenteuer, and was clearly influenced by Space Odyssey, but it was the year 1972 that saw the release of two of the most important sci-fi films from behind the Iron Curtain: Andrey Tarkovskiy’s Solaris and Herrmann Zschoche’s Eolomea. While most film fans are familiar with Solaris, Eolomea remains obscure.
Eolomea is based on a book by the Bulgarian writer, Angel Vagenshtain (aka Angel Wagenstein). Vagenshtain was already a successful author in Bulgaria when he began working on films at DEFA, starting with the Bulgarian/East German co-production, Sterne (not a science fiction film). Eolomea starts its story in the middle, with the sudden radio silence of six space stations. A team of scientists on Earth are not sure why this is happening, and meet to discuss what to do next. While they are debating, two more space stations lose contact. The scientists decide to cancel all space travel until they can ascertain if this silence is caused by a virus or something even more sinister.
The story centers around two people: Maria Scholl (Cox Habbema), a science professor and one of the big-wigs at the space authority; and Dan Lagny (Ivan Andonov), a bored and aimless cosmonaut. The story is told in a non-linear fashion, hopping back and forth through time and space, allowing the story to unfold slowly. Most of the film centers around Cosmonaut Lagny, who is on Earth in one scene, and in space the next. The space sets have the cold metallic look common to space movies at the time, but with a slightly more lived in look than most. The obligatory robot is nicely funky-looking, falling somewhere between the Lost in Space robot, C3PO of Star Wars, and a reel-to-reel tape deck.
Director Herrmann Zschoche’s visual style is straightforward, relying heavily on medium and two-shots. But he makes up for this in the editing room. The film includes some of the few examples of jump cuts to be used in East German cinema. Zschoche began his career as a news cameraman, and switched to directing movies in the early sixties. Most of his film are family-oriented films or coming-of-age tales. His career was temporarily derailed in 1965 when his film, Karla, was banned by the SED at the 11th Plenum (see The Rabbit is Me). After a few years, he was back at DEFA and achieved his highest box-office success in 1978 with Seven Freckles, a retelling of the Romeo and Juliet myth at a modern summer camp. Herrmann Zschoche continued making films in East Germany up until the fall of the wall. After the Wende, he moved to television, directing episodes of the popular series, Tatort, Kommisar Rex, and Kurklinik Rosenau.
Cox Habbema was a Dutch actress who had much success in East Germany, and was married to the East German actor, Eberhard Esche. Ivan Andonov, on the other hand, was a popular Bulgarian actor, who, like the Yugoslavian actor Gojko Mitic, was dubbed for German audiences. Special mention should be made of Günther Fischer’s pop jazz score, reminiscent of French films of the sixties. The sets were the last to be designed by the East German production design team of Erich Krüllke and Werner Pieske. After this film the duo (who had, up until this point, always worked together) went their separate ways, with Pieske moving into the field of television production design, and Krüllke continuing in movies. Both men retired from production design after the fall of the wall.