||Jan Oliver Schroeder
|Eva Green||Matt Dillon||Zélie Boulant-Lemesle|
|Sandra Hüller||Lars Eidinger||Aleksey Fateev|
|Nancy Tate||Jan Oliver Schroeder||Marc Fischer|
|Birger Frehse||Vitaly Jay||Thomas Pesquet|
|Eva Green||Matt Dillon|
|Zélie Boulant-Lemesle||Sandra Hüller|
|Lars Eidinger||Aleksey Fateev|
|Nancy Tate||Jan Oliver Schroeder|
|Marc Fischer||Birger Frehse|
|Vitaly Jay||Thomas Pesquet|
Women have played a large part in recent post-millennium sci-fi, with such films as Gravity (’13), Interstellar (’14) and Aniara (’19) having major leading roles for actresses, in these cases, Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway and Emelie Jonsson. Indeed in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity women make up 50% of the entire cast. And of course one of the all-time sci-fi icons is Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, fighting the Xenomophs, and the Wayland-Yutani Corporation, in four films from the original Alien (1979) to Alien: Resurrection (’97).
Proxima, directed and co-written by French filmmaker Anne Winocour (Augustine / Disorder), largely stays with it’s feet on Earth, and although the central character, Sarah Loreau (Eva Green - Casino Royale / TV’s Penny Dreadful), is facing rogue space debris or rampaging aliens, she has other, more tangible obstacles and dangers.
Winocour, emphasising the huge amount of research which went into the script, also managed to get permission to shoot in the offices of the European Space Astronaut Centre in Cologne, the Russian cosmonaut training centre Star City and the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which certainly adds to the feeling of quite remarkable veracity, on a level with Damien Chazelle’s similarly-themed First Man (’18).
But while the odds in Winocour’s film are somewhat less than in Chazelle’s, a journey to the ISS rather than the first Moon landing, although any space journey is a still remarkable achievement of technology, endeavour and sheer bravery, the focus is one crew member, French scientist Sarah Loreau (the wonderful Eva Green - Casino Royale / TV’s Penny Dreadful), who will travel with American Mike Shannon (Matt Dillon - There’s Something About Mary) and Russian Anton Ochelvsky (Loveless), but she will be leaving behind her eight-year-old daughter, rather obviously named Stella (Zélie Boulant), who at one point rather awkwardly asks ‘Mummy, are you going to die before I do?’.
Having to leave her daughter with her ex-husband, astrophysicist Thomas (Lars Eidinger - Clouds Of Sils Maria / TV’s Babylon Berlin), before Sarah embarks on a truly frightening training regime, the loneliness and feeling of estrangement is seen as another obstacle presented to her on the path to fulfilling her ambition, and is pointedly mirrored with Shannon’s very different relationship with his young sons, Dillion being very good casting as the objectionable American astronaut, treating Sarah with a mixture of patronising, indifference and outright scorn.
Winocour’s screenplay, co-written with Jean-Stéphane Bron, magnifies the balance between a single mother’s commitment to motherhood and her career, to a literally life-or-death degree, since this is an extended work trip from which a safe return is not entirely guaranteed, with Eva Green allowing elements of vulnerability and doubt to be seen in her performance as Sarah, attributes not usually seen in the characters she usually plays, and it certainly seems to be her in some of the terrifying training drills, which include a centrifuge which can accelerate the subject to gravitational forces up to 9G, and lifesaving exercises while wearing full protective gear, in a huge swimming pool. Rather her than us.
Largely being sent to VOD due to the coronavirus lockdown, Proxima did play several festivals before the crisis, making its premiere in the Platform section of the Toronto International Film Festival, followed by the 67th San Sebastian IFF, where it took three awards, including the Special Jury Prize.
Winocour’s film gained a couple of dazzling reviews in it’s festival play, Screen Daily calling it ‘A significant, ambitious and entirely impressive film by a dazzling young French director in full command of her ship’, The Hollywood Reporter adding ‘This superbly crafted yet intimate family drama is so realistic in terms of its setting and technical specificity, it sometimes feels like a documentary. ... It’s perhaps a tad deliberate in spots, hitting its central theme too heavily on the nose, but Proxima pulls off an impressive balancing act between the personal and the astronomical’. Cineuropa found it to be ‘A striking and almost documentary-like plunge into the world of simulation exercises, Proxima avails itself of the novel-like mother-daughter relationship, using it as a central thread to create a captivating and visually accomplished film which is also, in some respects, a feminist manifesto, but which is equally a demonstration of the admiration the filmmaker feels, on a very human level, for a totally extraordinary professional vocation’.
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