Human beings are, by nature, explorers. It’s not profound to say that, nor is it particularly new either, but when it comes to space exploration mankind collectively is in awe of the possibilities. It’s the reason art in any form is fascinated by what could or could not happen when we leave our planet for the vast expanse above us.
From director-writer Alice Winocour who previously gave us erotic historical drama Augustine and psychological thriller Disorder comes Proxima. The basic set up follows Sarah, as played by Eva Green, who is preparing for a journey to the International Space Station for an entire year to help prepare people for a job on Mars. The thrust of the story follows her training for this mission juxtaposing her struggles there with her struggles as a mother to an eight-year-old daughter Stella (Zelie Boulant-Lemesle).
Like other recent films about space Proxima is interested not in space ships and adventure but more in looking at what going away to the furthest point a human can go does to your mind, and moreover what it does to a parent. Unlike last year’s space drama Ad Astra Winocour opts to keep us on planet Earth for the duration, making the film a more procedural film. Filmed in actual European Space Agency facilities the film has the air of a film that knows what it is talking about.
For the most part Eva Green is a compelling central figure, often cast in mysterious or evil roles, here Green is given a role full of sympathy to play with. Sarah isn’t self-involved like so many protagonists in these films are, instead her desire to blaze a trail few women have is in conflict with her desire to fully support her daughter. The dynamic of her daughter struggling to accept her mother’s job is one that calls to mind Interstellar but this is a much more nuanced film than any space opera.
The day-to-day of training if filled with what you’d expect, being hooked up to machines and running on treadmills, watching videos of space travel and disasters to learn from them, that machine that gives you the experience of G force travel. Interestingly the way spacewalking is simulated is shown by donning the suits and going underwater to simulate the lack of gravity and difficult movement.
When the film is doing this or looking at Sarah’s relationship with Stella, who is watched over not only by her father Thomas (Lars Eidinger) and support worker Wendy (Sandra Huller) it works and shows a family dynamic that works brilliantly, as well as Winocour’s decision to have the cast speak French and English interchangeably as dual-language people would.
The film falls down however with the introduction and use of Matt Dillon as brash American colleague Mike. The whole sexist co-worker trope is a little tired and a film that shows separated parents working together and social workers being a force for good should know better than to fall into a tired cliche when the drama of a mother and daughter is much more compelling. Dillon is perfectly well cast and plays the role well but it feels outdated to have this trope and moreover, slows the film’s emotional core.
That said the film is a quiet, understated film that is more about a woman chasing a dream and trying to be a good mother than it is about science fiction. Winocour knows how to frame images that move you, and even when the film falls into rocky terrain, she brings it back for a moving finale that reminds us that the biggest adventure in life might be seeing the love your children have for you.
Dir: Alice Winocour
Scr: Alice Winocour, Jean-Stephane Bron
Prd: Isabelle Madelaine, Emilie Tisne
Cast: Eva Green, Matt Dillon, Sandra Huller, Lars Eidinger, Zelie Boulant-Lemesle
DOP: Georges Lechaptois
Music: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Runtime: 107 minutes
Proxima is available onDVD, Blu-ray & Digital 23 November