Directed by Alice Winocour.
Starring Eva Green, Zélie Boulant-Lemesle, Matt Dillon, Lars Eidinger and Sandra Hüller.
A French astronaut prepares for the difficult moment when she must leave her daughter behind in order to blast off into space.
Movies about astronauts are very often more about the things tying them to the Earth than the things they experience once they leave the orbit of the planet. That’s certainly the case with Alice Winocour’s defiantly low-key drama Proxima, which gently explores the challenges and prejudices faced by female astronauts through the prism of Eva Green as a parent struggling to balance her various responsibilities. It’s a movie which has moments of extraordinary power, but too often gets lost amid the constraints of its plodding tone.
Sarah (Green) has spent her whole life training to be an astronaut and frequently recites rocket launch proclamations with her daughter Stella (Zélie Boulant-Lemesle). Her dream becomes a reality when she gets the call that she has been brought in as a last-minute addition to the crew of the Proxima mission, which is set to make them the first human beings to travel far enough that they lose sight of the Earth. As her training ratchets up, she deals with the fact her and Stella will soon be separated.
The early minutes of Proxima are intriguing, with Green sketched out as a determined woman seizing an opportunity that she wasn’t sure she’d ever get. Matt Dillon is introduced as the slightly sleazy, all-American lead astronaut on the mission, making a gross quip about how “French women are really good when it comes to cooking” as part of an early blast of micro-aggressions. When she arrives at the training base, she is told that “there aren’t many women who have come here” and the stage seems set for a tale of an inspiring woman beating the odds.
But that’s not what Proxima transpires to be. Indeed, director and co-writer Winocour seems unsure about what exactly the movie is. At times, it’s an intimate drama about the unique bond between mother and daughter, with the quiet moments of either connection or disconnection between Sarah and Stella the strongest and most powerful scenes. In these moments, Green elegantly allows warmth to seep through the stiff, determined exterior of her astronaut persona and the sense of imminent separation between them is palpable in the two performances.
The bulk of the narrative, however, is focused not on this but on the astronaut training itself – a series of spinning centrifuges and dull exercises. They seem to be building to a breaking point for Sarah as the pressure mounts, but this thread never really comes to the surface. Sarah just carries on, muddles through and emerges with everything she needs. It feels like there’s an identity crisis at the centre of the film and, as a result, neither strand packs the emotional punch they both seem to be moving towards.
The result is a curiously empty film, not helped by the subdued and bland visual world of the cold, clinical astronaut facilities. By the time the narrative builds to a moment of emotional rebellion – and one which is entirely devoid of consequences – the film has squandered any goodwill it built up in its early stages. It’s an overlong slog that, despite its strong performances and early promise, is let down by its lethargic execution.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.