I originally saw Alice Winocour’s Proxima back in August, when cinemas initially re-opened and my local Picturehouse was screening this deftly paced, human-focused story. Whilst travelling into Space as an Astronaut is the reason for Eva Green’s Sarah training and self-determination, and obviously at the centre of what everything else revolves around, this is a space-travel film with a huge difference because it highlights the commitment, the psychological impact and the strength of those who take on the job, physically, mentally and especially how it impacts on close relationships.
Shifting effortlessly between languages, that includes French, English, German and more, Winocour’s third feature film follows Sarah, a French astronaut heading off to train at the European Space Agency in Cologne. She’s the only woman in this program, taking on the strenuous training regime and is chosen as part of the crew that’ll take a year-long mission into the darkness called ‘Proxima’. While the film might be sold as a Space drama, it’s centrifugal purpose to take us on a human-level journey and undeniably from Sarah’s individual perspective. The film highlights her struggle as a woman in a male-dominated environment, where it seems that more is expected of her, than it might be for a male counterpart. Her story also takes us inside her relationship with her daughter (Zélie Boulant-Lemesle) and her self-belief, there’s little doubt we’re shown how high the pressure is and, in some ways, that her new colleagues are expecting her to fail, although she’s determined to prove them wrong.
Many films might work overtime on the ‘journey’, in a sense of competitiveness and unsubtle fraught relationships, but Proxima is smarter than that. It’s subtly played out but never loses that strength at its core, which is the sheer reliance and effort of Sarah, because she’s qualified and highly skilled. The strain in her life is with her daughter Stella, played with sincere honesty and believability by the young Zélie Boulant-Lemesle. She doesn’t steal the scenes per se, but certainly emulates the level her Mother is on. She’s stubborn and reflective, but of course still a child. She’s also smart, her Mum has taught her well, and it’s shown through a deep love that exists between them.
While the film is undoubtedly Eva Green and Boulant-Lemesle’s vehicle of virtuosity, there’s also a strong co-starring cast which includes Toni Erdmann’s Sandra Hüller, plus Aleksey Fateev and even Matt Dillon, who I haven’t seen this impressive for a while now. He’s always a little brash in his roles but here it feels necessary as a counterpoint, but he’s also truthful in an environment where everyone must be, this is a team exercise after all. Alongside this, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s score accompanies events perfectly, with a stirring score that only adds to the scenes.
Eva Green gives one of her strongest performances so far, with Zélie Boulant-Lemesle captivating in innocence and self-assurance, it may drift away a few times but Alice Winocour’s Proxima is a wonderfully measured, human study of relationships, inner strength, sacrifice, and sheer determination.