Paper Soldier, a Russian film from director Alexey German Jr., takes a street-level approach – or more specifically a gray, damp, muddy earth-level approach, to the Russian half of the space race, in an attempt to strip this proud moment in Soviet history of all its glory. While it succeeds in this effort, the film falters a bit with the more human side of story and ends up feeling a little bit like a history lesson.
Forget about any uptempo cosmonaut-training montages or gorgeous outer space vistas. Instead, Paper Soldier is tightly focused on the psyche of Daniel (Merab Ninidze), a physician involved in the space project who grows increasingly uncomfortable risking human life for the sake of science. Daniel’s also got a wife (a fellow doctor played by Chulpan Khamatova) at the training facility in Moscow and a girlfriend at the launch site (Anastasya Shevaleva) in Kazakhstan, and in time these personal and philosophical conflicts take a toll on him.