Wednesday, March 04, 2020

So Close So Far Away

I don't know about you but I could watch Eva Green do anything. Cook eggs, brush her hair, get possessed by devils, fly on an elephant, drown alongside James Bond in a collapsing Venetian apartment building, have a virtual ménage à trois with her brother Louis Garrel -- now this is a woman who can have, and has had, it all. No wonder she was drawn to Proxima, director Alice Winocour's stellar and moving new film about a space astronaut who also just happens to be a mom, since the meat of the thing lay in its microscopic dissection of what "having it all" means specifically for such a spectacular woman.

We first meet Sarah Loreau (Green) in the middle of her training to maybe get strapped onto a gigantic rocket and flung into the great unknown for an entire year. She's clearly smart and clearly capable -- per the usual when it comes to women working in a so-called "men's field" she's probably twice as smart and twice as capable, actually. But all of that focus and determination, the inhuman hard work of it, well there's only so much energy and time one person can expend. That's just science. 

And so try as Sarah might, something's got to give. Space, her daughter. Proxima is an on-the-ground detailed account of what making absolutely unthinkable, astronomical decisions looks like. And it feels, dare I say, particularly feminine in its way of doing this -- not to be too reductive but a male filmmaker usually tells their version of this exact story, the story of a man's epic wrestle with His Place In The Universe, like James Gray did in Ad Astra. The struggle set against the unfathomable depths of the cosmos, their inner self splayed out across all of the stars. These men's bared souls become starlight, abstract gas explosions -- inner-self evaluation is such an immense task only infinity itself can come close to the emotions.

Winocour takes us, like, to the gas station down the road. A shelf of generic toys looking scuzzy and cheap under fluorescent lighting, a wall of baby dolls with a sickly greenish pallor staring dead eyed back. Sarah stares at them, and admits that her daughter Stella (a painfully shy and adorable Zélie Boulant) already has half of those things. She grabs the biggest teddy bear and prays. And that, I promise you dear reader, was so much more moving to me than a dozen stoic menfolk staring into some void, shedding a single tear that folds into the expanse of space.

The specificity of dirt under Sarah's fingernails, clunky masks and too worn jumpsuits, of tight-walled hotel rooms halfway across the globe from one another that look exactly the same. Of a wall of glass an inch thick dropped down like a literal million miles between two hands, one big one small. These are the things you need to tell this story, more than any glittering metaphysical fireworks display of color and light, and frankly Winocour -- along with Green's perfect interiorized spectacle of a performance -- makes all the dude posturing seem a bit of a goof. Proxima clutches the sweet earth to its chest and weeps, and I wept too.


Proxima screens on March 7th and March 10th as part of Film at Lincoln Center's annual "Rendez-vous with French Cinema" series, which we previewed at this link and which opens tomorrow and runs through March 15th. You can check out the entire schedule here. And there are more reviews to come soon...

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