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Croisières Sidérales

Entry updated 31 October 2022. Tagged: Film.

French film (1942). Industrie Cinématographique. Directed by André Zwoboda. Written by Pierre Bost and Pierre Guerlais. Cast includes Julien Carette, Jean Marchat and Madeleine Sologne. 90 minutes. Black and white.

The film opens with a scrolled text (in French): "Although the authors took great liberties with the scholar's numbers, particularly concerning the velocities and distances at which the laws of relativity could play, the adventure that will unfold in this film is based on an exact scientific idea."

The sign by a newly planted sapling reads: "This tree was planted on May 16, 1942 to commemorate the first stratospheric ascent organized by the Scientific Institute. Aeronauts Robert and Francoise Monier." The latter are a newly married couple: unfortunately, just before their departure, Robert (Marchat) is hospitalized, so laboratory assistant Lucien Marchand (Carette) reluctantly goes in his place. Their pressurized cabin is essentially a diving bell attached to a balloon. As they ascend Lucien craves a cigarette; so the otherwise occupied Francoise (Sologne) will not notice, he opens a porthole ... The resulting depressurization causes chaos; the gas in the balloon ignites and rockets the cabin into space (see Space Flight). Francoise – who is in charge – decides to open the porthole again, so the escaping air will propel them back to Earth: the cabin has a parachute, so they land safely. They return to the Institute and find the sapling is now a tree, with a new sign mentioning Lucien instead of Robert. It is the Near Future of March 1967: Francoise's husband still works at the Institute, and despite the age difference the couple still love each other. Robert realizes that Time Distortion has occurred, a result of special Relativity: Hendrik Lorentz is mentioned, but not Einstein. More comedically, Lucien meets his wife and son, a newborn baby when he left.

Once it is confirmed time dilation took place, a company is set up to exploit this effect, arranging luxury cruises in space ("croisières sidérales"). The first Spaceship, which has artificial Gravity, departs after a lavish Busby Berkeley-like celebration. Robert and Lucien are on the flight, to reach age parity with their spouses; the other passengers have their own reasons. Lucien's clumsiness again causes problems and the spaceship goes out of control and heads towards Venus, on which it subsequently lands. The planet is Edenic (see Pastoral), with peaceful but rather self-satisfied French-speaking inhabitants (Aliens, but human in appearance), who inform the travellers that they do have science but, unlike Earth, only use it in a good way. The ship is repaired and, save for a young romantic couple who choose to stay, they return home.

Aside from the use of relativity, there is a nice scene in the diving-bell where Francoise and Lucien walk on its inner walls in zero gravity, anticipating a scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Otherwise the sf elements are unremarkable: aside from artificial Gravity, there are automatic doors, some glittery fashions and the cars have fins on their backs, but the overall feel is of pre-World War Two nostalgia. This is a moderately enjoyable movie, with the actors giving solid performances; but the main points of interest are the context in which it was made (see below) and the early use of Einstein's theory of relativity to drive a film's plot – even if "great liberties" were taken with it. The first movie to use relativity in a story was the German science documentary film Wunder der Schöpfung (1925; vt Our Heavenly Bodies), which includes a journey through the Solar System and nearby Stars by spaceship (see Space Documentaries).

There is, however, an elephant in the room: since 1940 France had been occupied by the Nazis and Industrie Cinématographique was based in Paris, part of the occupied zone. The film was released in April 1942 and covers events from May of that year, yet there is no sign or mention of the occupation (an instruction laid down by the Germans for any French films of that era). It is significant that, when talking about time dilation and special relativity, Lorentz's is not the first Scientist's name that comes to mind (see Race in SF). [SP]


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