director Kurt Maetzig
The Silent Star is mid-century a mainstream science fiction film through an alternate lens: not dramatically different, yet significantly so. It’s an East German/Polish production, one of only an handful of scifi genre films to come from those countries in that era. It’s a remarkable production, with some really interesting aesthetics and designs and some interesting differences from other films of the time.
The Silent Star is indeed about the first manned space travel to Venus. It’s inspired by the finding of an odd damaged piece of technology that turns out to be a message from Venusians of some time in the past.
What’s interesting is how multicultural the crew is, considering this is pre-Gene Roddenberry and also behind the “Iron Curtain”. And it’s not tokenism as is common today in a multicultural cast, but the world depicted is one inhabited by many people of different races, co-mingling in a common united culture. It’s not quite as progressive regarding feminism, but ah well.
Cold War nuclear fear strikes a different tone here. Nuclear weapons are acknowledged as deadly to all life and the bombing or Hiroshima is significantly cited. The Nazis are cited too, but only once in reference to the then present day fears.
Once Venus is actually reached, what is left is a petrified forest of destruction left by nuclear explosions. Were the Venusians intending a warning for Earth, or were they destroyed in their planned nuclear destruction of our planet?
The story is adapted from Polish writer Stanisław Lem, whose work was the basis for the Andrei Tarkovsky Solaris (1972). Lem was apparently unhappy with the adaptation, but it’s a very interesting artifact of an earlier era in science fiction from a culture on a different side of the Cold War fence from most of us.