I’ve spoken before about those rare instances when you begin watching a movie and realize almost immediately that you know nothing about what you’re about to watch. You certainly haven’t seen a trailer, and at most, you’ve seen the cast list and found it intriguing enough to agree to watch it in order to review. Such is the case with writer/director Alice Winocour’s (Disorder, Augustine) Proxima, starring Eva Green (Casino Royale) as engineer Sarah Loreau, a French astronaut-in-training who has just been tapped to enter into the final phase of her preparations to go to the International Space Station for one year.
She begins at the European Space Agency in Cologne but soon moves on to the more intensive training in Russia, alongside her fellow travelers, American Mike Shannon (an appropriately cocky and judgmental Matt Dillon) and Russian Anton Ocheivsky (Aleksey Fateev). At this point in the film, I’m assuming some type of science-fiction element is about to make itself known, but instead Proxima (the name of Sarah’s mission) is about the unique hardships sometimes faced by female astronauts who have to consider everything from how they want to handle their menstrual cycles in space (on or off are the two choices) to, in Sarah’s case, asking her ex-husband living in Germany (Lars Eidinger) to take care of their 8-year-old daughter Stella (Zélie Boulant) for the entire year she’s gone—an idea no one seems thrilled with.
As the film and Sarah’s training progress, the pressures of her intense schedule and the needs of her introverted daughter come into conflict, and Sarah begins doubting whether she can spend a year off of Earth. A quick visit to the Russian training facility by Stella results in heartbreak as the powers that be refuse to allow Sarah a break from her routine to spend with the girl, who ends up hanging out more with one of the aides at the facility, Wendy (Sandra Hüller, Toni Erdmann, Sleep). But in the end, Sarah’s emotional needs as a parent are pitted against her lifelong desire to explore space.
In addition to the mother-daughter chaos, Proxima also provides examples of how women in the space program (no matter the country of origin, I’m guessing) are treated differently than their male counterparts and must perform beyond perfection in order to be considered equal to them. Sometimes the sexist behavior is subtle, but that doesn’t make it any less noticeable or impactful. One presumes that in Sarah’s rare moments of uncertainty, the less predictable words and actions of her peers are what cause her to doubt herself. Her deflections are beyond skillful because she doesn’t want to sour the camaraderie that is necessary on space missions, but she also needs to get the point across that she earned her right to be on the mission and wasn’t given any favors.
In Proxima, Green isn’t being asked to play someone extraordinary in the space program; she’s portraying what I believe is meant to be a typical astronaut, with all of the skills and knowledge that each one has, and she does so quite remarkably. Like all astronauts, they have lives and dreams and flaws that they have to incorporate into their persona to get the job done safely, and the film does a remarkable job of illustrating that difficult process.
The film will be released Friday on VOD.
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!