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by Pavel Cuzuioc

grade: 8.5

The beauty of Cosmosapiens is all here: director Pavel Cuzuioc stands behind the camera and lets the lead scientists philosophize, without intervening with questions or cuts that may somehow influence the mise-en-scène. At the Viennale 2023.

Mysteries of the universe

The Austrian premiere of Cosmosapiens, the newest work by talented documentary filmmaker Pavel Cuzuioc, took place at the Viennale 2023 on a windy Viennese afternoon in late October and was well received by the audience. He has hit the mark in being able to tell a story, that of some scientists in the Caucasus before the invasion of Ukraine, constantly searching for new forms of extraterrestrial life, with such objectivism as to be able to mix philosophy and everyday life with a great naturalness. As it should be.

The Russian Special Astrophysical Observatory is based in the Caucasus Mountains, and the scientists who populate it, working and sometimes “living” in it, are busy with the constant observation of signals from the cosmos, be they pulsars or black holes. But what most keeps their day busy is the search for extraterrestrial life forms, which apparently exist for certain.

Questo è una sorta di prologo non scritto di Cosmosapiens, This is a kind of unwritten prologue of Cosmosapiens useful to open a much broader debate in which scientists and students launch themselves, talking about globalization, the relationship with nature and animatedly discussing the difference between objectivity and subjectivity; all themes dear to those who do research not only by trade. Thus, in the face of the vastness of the universe, one wonders about the meaning of life in general, especially terrestrial life, well represented by the surrounding bucolic nature made up of forests, mushrooms and baby goats.

Written, directed and produced by Pavel Cuzuioc, Moldavian by birth and Austrian by adoption, Cosmosapiens uses the observatory’s telescope to explore the universe while never turning its gaze – and thus its camera – to the sky. And of course this is no coincidence, since the immeasurability of the universe is the starting point for a deeper reflection on the meaning of life on Earth, understood both as a celestial body but also as a living planet (and green, if we want to maintain a color-related symbolism).

Between kneading treats and talking about the difference between Shakespearean characters – the subject of rehearsals in an in-house theater workshop – we thus come to consider possible applications of scientific and technological discoveries aimed at improving human physical and cognitive capabilities, that famous transhumanism that is increasingly topical. A sign that the solitude of the Caucasian landscape does not necessarily mean isolation, but more like interest and clarity. And it is precisely the constant reference to such themes that builds the entire structure of the narrative, which, by contrasting with sometimes discordant images representing the everyday life of scientists, give the film a total and culturally elevated dimension. The beauty of Cosmosapiens is all here: Cuzuioc stands behind the camera and lets the scientists philosophize, without intervening with questions or cuts that may somehow influence the mise-en-scène.

In doing so, extraordinary events such as a mountain bike race or everyday occurrences such as a visit to an old colleague in the cemetery – a simple grave surrounded by greenery – are put on the same level and serve as gears to be able to narrate a cosmology that should transcend planets and systems but instead is dangerously in danger of “derailing”, for the sake of an old Soviet pride that has never been completely dormant. While one wonders dreamily about the meaning of life on Earth, one can well understand how the presumption of some/many could explain what was soon to happen. Cosmosapiens was, in fact, completed and edited two months before Russia invaded Ukraine – a caption at the beginning stands as a reminder – and the testimony Cuzuioc has given us seems to be a spiritual testament and an exhortation to never stop wondering and dreaming – despite unjustified invasions. Mulțumesc, Pavel.

Original title: Cosmosapiens
Directed by: Pavel Cuzuioc
Country/year: Austria / 2023
Running time: 90’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Pavel Cuzuioc
Cinematography: Pavel Cuzuioc
Produced by: Pavel Cuzuioc Filmproduktion

Info: the page of Cosmosapiens on the website of the Viennale; the page of Cosmosapiens on the website of the Austrian Film Commission; the website of Pavel Cuzuioc