Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Alice Winocour’s Proxima

Hopefully, thanks to SpaceX (and no thanks to NASA or the previous administration), American and European astronauts soon won’t have to go to Baikonur to travel into space. Unfortunately, for now, all roads to manned space travel run through Star City and Kazakhstan, so that is where French astronaut Sarah Loreau must go. As a result, she will be forced to spend a great deal of time away from her daughter at an awkward period of her development in Alice Winocour’s French-language production Proxima, which releases digitally this Friday.

It is a coup for Loreau and the French space agency when she is selected as a last-minute replacement for the Proxima mission. Conceived as dry run for a future Mars mission, Proxima will be captained by the American Mike Shannon and piloted by Russian Anton Ocheivsky. They are relatively okay with Loreau joining them, but she chafes at their low expectations. Unfortunately, Loreau’s expedited training schedule and the distraction of her daughter Stella’s angst leave her so exhausted, their concerns are sometimes justified.

Granted, Loreau will return while her daughter is still young, but the film is at its best when capturing the wistful feelings experienced by the astronauts (especially Loreau) during their final days on Earth. Some scenes were indeed filmed on location, but presumably the design team (production designer Florian Sanson and art director Anja Fromm) still had to recreate Star City and the Baikonur Cosmodrome locations, after the fact. Regardless,
Proxima really gives viewers a keen sense of place—so much so future astronauts should probably watch the film before traveling there.

On the other hand, Loreau’s long-distance drama with her daughter eventually grows tiresome. Her ex-husband’s ambivalence particularly strains credibility, since as an astrophysicist with the French space program, he should be professionally invested in Loreau’s success (and therefore ought to be acting like more of a team-player).

Be that as it may, Eva Green gives a wonderfully restrained yet acutely humanistic performance as Loreau. She literally must carry the film, since she is on-screen nearly every second, but she holds up to Winocour’s close scrutiny admirably. It is her film, but Matt Dillon (a fellow LP collector) also deserves special notice for his complex turn as Captain Shannon, who is sometimes crass and insensitive, but also has his moments camaraderie and compassion.

is a good-looking film that offers quite a sight-seeing tour for space-program enthusiasts. It is also an excellent showcase for Green’s talents, but the maternal crises of confidence are a bit overblown. Nevertheless, it is far superior to other productions featuring aspiring astronauts that premiere this week. Recommended for its thoughtful moments, Proxima releases this Friday (11/6) on VOD platforms.