THE STORY – An astronaut prepares for a one-year mission aboard the International Space Station.
THE CAST – Eva Green, Matt Dillon, Lars Eidinger & Sandra Hüller
THE TEAM – Alice Winocour (Director/Writer) & Jean-Stéphane Bron (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 107 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
Most of the time, when you watch a “space film,” it’s all about the action which takes place in space. Maybe there are flashbacks which show a person’s time back on Earth or maybe there is a section of the film which takes place on our planet before that person heads up to the stars. What’s uncommon, is to have a space film that doesn’t take place in space at all. 2020’s answer to last year’s sorely disappointing and idiosyncratic “Lucy In The Sky” is “Proxima,” an intimate space film which is more about the preparation for space travel, rather than the time spent up in space itself.
Sarah (Eva Green) is a French astronaut in Cologne, Germany who is part of the European Space Agency. She is training for an upcoming mission to space which will last for a full year under the command of her tough and condescending captain (Matt Dillon), while she tries to balance being a single mother to her daughter Stella (Zélie Boulant-Lemesle ) back at home. Although her ex-husband (Lars Eidinger) is still around for Stella while Sarah is away, the emotional attachment is too strong. Being the only woman in the program, Sarah has to work twice as hard, while she endures the training for a mission that very few ever embark on or are prepared for.
“Proxima” does a phenomenal job at putting you in the headspace of an expert at her job, who is training for something most of us cannot even imagine. The mental and physical preparation to get your body and mind ready to be up in space is shown in full detail here as Sarah goes through numerous underwater training simulations, tests, physicals, and more. On top of all of that though, she has to contend with the sexist attitude from her commanding officer (a well-cast Matt Dillon) and being a single mother to her daughter who she has to be away from for long stretches at a time. This is all to say that while there may be some elements of “Proxima” that have been highlighted in other space films before, Alice Winocour’s film is wholly unique due to its female perspective and fully grounded story. One that is handled with care and consideration towards Sarah’s character development and her relationship with her daughter.
Eva Green delivers one of her most understated and best performances as a determined professional having to balance her desire for the stars with her desire to be present for the person who means the most in this world to her. Sarah is strong-willed and emotionally closed off around her colleagues as she needs to appear mentally stable to do the upcoming job. However, she’s internally conflicted and emotionally vulnerable in her scenes with Stella. Green’s chemistry with Zélie Boulant-Lemesle is the beating heart of the movie, backed emotionally by a beautiful score from Ryuichi Sakamoto. Without it, detractors of “Proxima” would be right in their assessment that the film is too cold and detached to care about.
I’m sure those people will exist regardless (because we can’t have nice things in life) so if anyone is going to find fault within “Proxima” it will be for the film’s deliberate withholding of space exploration, action, and dazzling special effects. While that is what gives the film its appeal, there will be those who find it to be too slow, nuanced, and closed off, as director/writer Alice Winocour focuses on the quieter, smaller moments instead of the larger ones. While that would’ve made for a more exciting film, it would not be the film we were given. One that occupies a space within the genre that it can call all its own.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Focusing on the drama that takes place on Earth before heading to space. Eva Green’s relatable and grounded performance.
THE BAD – So grounded that it may create a disconnect.