Proxima

 

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A film very different from what you might suppose it to be.

 
Proxima

Eva Green and Zélie Boulant

 

Let me say at once that the fact that this film is about an astronaut does not mean that you need to be interested in space travel to appreciate it. Indeed, I would go further and add that anyone who approaches Proxima expecting some kind of sci-fi adventure will be taken aback. This is a film set on earth and the portraits of female astronauts inserted into the end credits tell us two things, namely that Proxima is a tribute to these women who have made their mark in what is mainly a man's sphere and that its concerns are with the realities of life that such pioneers face.

 

Sarah Loreau (Eva Green) is a French woman who even in childhood had a dream of becoming an astronaut. We meet her when, having become highly qualified in this sphere, she has been selected as a late replacement to be sent into space to the International Space Station for a year to play a key role there alongside an American (Matt Fillon) and a Russian (Aleksey Fateev). The training and preparations for the project are followed in some detail. However, the first voices to be heard in the film ahead of any visuals are those of Sarah and her eight-year-old child, Stella (Zélie Boulant), and central to Proxima is the impact of this major space mission (it's known as the Proxima mission) on the lives of mother and daughter. The situation is the more acute because following a divorce Sarah has become a single mother, but matters are eased by the fact that the break-up has been amicable and Stella's father (Lars Eidinger) is willing to take a substantial role in looking after the child at this time.

 

Proxima, the creation of France's Alice Winocour as both writer and director, is a beautiful piece of work, one that seems totally unforced as it tells its story in a way that feels completely authentic (the events depicted begin in Germany but the main training site from which the rocket will ascend is in Kazakhstan and there is a persuasive mix of languages in this largely subtitled film). Even more praise is due for the acting is exceptional: Eva Green has never been better, valuable unselfish support comes from Dillon, Eidiger, Fateev and the splendid Sandra Hüller best known for 2016's Toni Erdmann. As for the child actress Zélie Boulant, she is so natural throughout as to be remarkable.

 

With so much going for it, Proxima might have been a masterpiece but in my eyes it falls short of that because, acutely observed though it is, the film fails to grasp the nettle at its heart. These days it seems old-hat to raise issues about whether or not women should be encouraged to work when they are mothers with young children to bring up. Here, however, we have an extreme case: a mother due to be absent for a whole year on a mission that carries risks to which her child cannot be oblivious. So do we root for Sarah as a heroine in a man's world (the real life references to such people at the close suggest that we should) or do we question her judgment and her priorities? The issue certainly comes to the surface but Proxima can hardly be said to face it.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Eva Green, Matt Dillon, Zélie Boulant, Lars Eidinger, Aleksey Fateev, Sandra Hüller, Trond-Erik Vassal, Nancy Tate, Svetlana Nekhoroshikh, Igor Filippov, Grégoire Colin.

 

Dir Alice Winocour, Pro Serge Hayat, Isabelle Madelaine and Emilie Tisné, Screenplay Alice Winocour with Jean-Stéphane Bron, Ph Georges Lechaptois, Pro Des Florian Sanson, Ed Julien Lacheray, Music Ryuîchi Sakamoto, Costumes Pascaline Chavanne and Fanny Rappage.

 

Dharamsala/Darius Films/Pathé/France 3 Cinéma/Pandora Films/Canal+/Ciné+-Picturehouse Entertainment.
107 mins. France/Germany. 2019. Rel: 31 July 2020. Cert. 12A .