Proxima (4 stars)

Proxima

GFF 2020: Alice Winocour directs Eva Green in a beautiful and insightful astronaut drama

A painful parting in the most unusual of circumstances provides the fuel for a heartrending astronaut drama from Disorder director Alice Winocour. It's a film that eschews spectacle and heroics in favour of a gorgeously drawn love story between mother and daughter.

Taking an atypical tack, although our protagonist's destination is Mars, the story stays grounded on Earth as the process of preparing for space travel is laid bare. Joining an international mission as a last-minute substitute, French astronaut Sarah Loreau (Eva Green) is put through her paces at facilities including Russia's Star City – a gruelling schedule punctuated by visits from her appropriately named daughter Stella (Zélie Boulant), reunions which act as both salve and trauma for both.

The prospect of a year-long separation is enough to break anyone but Sarah is made of robust stuff and Green, who's become better known for her vampish roles, portrays her struggles with astonishing delicacy. Winocour's latest is full of wonderful observations, with her sensitive camera honing in on details which capture the strength of the mother-daughter bond: how much they appreciate each other's smell; the way Sarah signs her daughter's name in a loving flourish on the letters she writes; Stella clinging to her mother like a limpet as she's carried to bed.

Winocour and her screenwriting collaborator Jean-Stéphane Bron have much to say on modern womanhood; even given the film's extreme context, it remains remarkably relatable on the sacrifices women must make in order to succeed professionally, and shows the sexism they come up against when they dare to encroach on fiercely guarded male territory; Sarah chafes against a more experienced American astronaut, brilliantly portrayed by Matt Dillon, whose scepticism of her worth is barely concealed and whose subtle objectification of her is seriously creepy.

We're more used to male soul-searching in this kind of scenario, or for the space travel itself to provide some of the substance, so it's exciting to approach a faintly familiar story from such a fresh and emotionally satisfying perspective. Natural, beautiful and insightful, Proxima may speak to mothers specifically but, in its profundity, it has something to say to us all.

Screening on Wed 26 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2020. General release from Fri 8 May.

Proxima

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • France / Germany
  • 1h 47min
  • Directed by: Alice Winocour
  • Cast: Eva Green, Zélie Boulant, Matt Dillon
  • UK release: 17 April 2020

Sarah (Green) is a French astronaut preparing to go to Mars, whose schedule is punctuated by visits from her daughter (Boulant). A heartrending astronaut drama that eschews spectacle and focuses on the mother-daughter relationship, with superb performances from all. Beautiful and insightful.

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