In Leni Lauritsch’s dark sci-fi thriller Rubikon, the final frontier could be humanity’s last refuge.
The film, starring Julia Franz Richter, Georg Blagden (“Versailles”) and Mark Ivanir, is screened in the focus competition of the Zurich Film Festival.
The story is set in a dark future where a polluted and unsustainable earth is plagued by corporate armies struggling to exhaust its resources, while the wealthy live in air domes that protect them from the contaminated atmosphere. The story revolves around three astronauts aboard the Rubicon space station, where scientists have developed a possible means of survival, a sustainable algae project that provides oxygen and food.
As a mysterious and highly toxic nebula begins to envelop the planet, the crew must decide whether to risk their lives and return to Earth to rescue survivors, or remain safe aboard the self-sufficient station.
Partly inspired by “Star Trek” (particularly “The Next Generation”, “Deep Space Nine”, “Voyager” and “Enterprise” era), the psychological thriller deals not only with space travel and environmental catastrophe, but also with philosophical questions of morality, Pragmatism, Survival and Sacrifice.
“‘Star Trek’ was something I grew up with,” says Lauritsch. In her film, the Austrian director attempted to explore similar philosophical themes and struggles that often made for compelling television shows aboard the USS Enterprise. And like the classic “Trek,” partly for budgetary reasons, the action would be confined to the ship, focusing on a story that “needs to be sustained by plot points, by character work.”
“I wanted it to be like a psychological game situation that happens to happen between a crew on a spaceship. There’s really no other way to do that in Austria because we don’t really have the money for films like this. I think that’s the maximum you can do with the money you can get, even as a first-time filmmaker. It was then clear to all of us that it had to be something like a chamber play.”
Lauritsch and co-author Jessica Lind also tried to break with conventions and typical genre clichés.
“We have this genre and we have all these rules and expectations that viewers have and we wanted to break them all. That’s the concept of the thing, doing something you wouldn’t expect. I really love it when people see the movie and they’re like, ‘Ah, I thought it was going to be like this, but then it’s completely different.’”
Lauritsch’s love of “Star Trek” ultimately benefited the production as well. At a Star Trek conference in England, she met an astronaut from the European Space Agency (ESA). “Everyone just wants to talk to the actors, but nobody wants to talk to the actual astronauts that are there. I told him I have this project and I really need some research advice.”
The astronaut introduced them to an ESA ground controller who was also at the meeting. “She is the ground controller of the actual missions. So they invited me to come to ESA in Cologne.” There, Lauritsch also studied the space station model that astronauts are trained on.
“We really got this great connection and it was all because of my love for science fiction and ‘Star Trek’.”
Lauritsch worked with production designer Johannes Muecke (whose credits include a number of Roland Emmerich films in various capacities, including Moonfall, Midway, and Independence Day: Resurgence) on the design of the Rubicon space station. Camera and imaging giant ARRI helped bring it to life as a 3D model. It was then used by the Austrian typesetters for the final shots.
“We built something that we love, and ARRI really made it absolutely hyper-realistic, and it really worked.” The film, she adds, has “the coolest space station I’ve seen so far. In my opinion it’s even cooler than Deep Space Nine.”
Despite a budget of 3 million euros, Lauritsch and her team pulled off an impressive performance. In terms of the work and hours the dedicated crew put into the production, the film could easily have cost double its budget, she points out. Lauritsch gives special credit to Mücke for inspiring her and the rest of the crew. “He put so much positive energy into it.”
The cast was equally engaging. “They were all so easy to deal with. Actually it was such a gift for me as a filmmaker because they all came from different acting schools. Mark is more from the American industry and George from the UK and Julia from Austria and it is precisely this Austrian style that I think is very different. But it kept everything fresh. We didn’t talk much beforehand and neither of them knew the other’s backstory. I wanted it to be like three strangers from different cultures meeting for the first time, which they actually did.”
The environmental catastrophe and economic disparity depicted in the film are also topics that are close to Lauritsch’s heart. “As an artist, there were a few issues that were very important to me: what we’re doing to our world.” The destruction of the world’s coral reefs was particularly painful and exasperating for her, and also inspired the film’s apocalyptic scenario. “I realized that I could at least use this negative energy to shape something. I said okay, that’s what I want to do with my script.”
The growing gap between the very rich and the poor has also left its mark. It’s a theme that remains important to her and will probably play a role in “the next 10 films that I do. That will probably be the main thing.”
While already working on another project, Lauritsch is considering a sequel to Rubicon.
“If anything, I’d love to do the prequel, especially because the characters have such vivid backstories, but we had to edit them out.” A prequel would follow these backstories and how the main characters eventually meet before the events that take place in Rubicon . It could also be an ideal fabric for a series, she adds.
Lauritsch is also developing a screenplay for her next project, an episodic film set in a near future where scientists will establish beyond a doubt that there is no God and what impact this is having on the world.
It follows four different characters from different cultures who are loosely connected and how they deal with it. It would also metaphorically reflect recent questions about the COVID-19 crisis and the debate between science and faith.
“It’s something that’s going on in our society. I found it very interesting how people deal with uncomfortable truths that are there… and what people do to escape that fear, that escapism, that madness.”
“Rubikon” is produced by Loredana Rehekampff and Andreas Schmied from Samsara Film Production in Vienna and Klaus Graf from Graf Film Production in Klagenfurt. Playmaker Munich handles world sales.
https://variety.com/2022/film/global/star-trek-leni-lauritschs-rubikon-zurich-film-festival-1235390219/ Inspired by Star Trek, Rubicon deals with moral issues