It’s only a minor spoiler to reveal that Alice Winocour’s new film ends with the launch of a space shuttle. Early on it becomes clear that this film is going to primarily concern itself with the emotional toll taken on astronauts as they prepare themselves to leave this world. Though it remains earthbound, the scale of the crisis facing our hero and her family is cosmic.
Sarah (Eva Green) is preparing to join the first manned mission to Mars. She has a young daughter, Stella (Zélie Boulant-Lemesle) whom she raises with her ex-husband Thomas (Lars Eidinger). As she trains her mind and body to it’s peak, in spite of the doubts of her fellow astronauts including smarmy team leader Mike (Matt Dillon), she finds herself drifting ever further away from the family and the world she is soon to leave behind.
Proxima is a largely performance driven drama film with space themes. Parallels between Eva Green’s contrasting obligations to be a good mother and at the peak of physical and mental abilities as an astronaut ensure the two stories never feel conflicting. The weight of expectation and duty she is experiencing is unique but her pain is always relatable. Winocour manages to articulate the terrifying distance that will soon separate this small family. Sequences shot in real astronaut training facilities see our hero encased in machinery and protective gear designed to protect her from the dangers of space travel, but also isolate and overbear her.
Eva Green provides an expressive and understated performance as Sarah. The burden of expectation from her colleagues and daughter takes a heartbreaking tole on her. The gendered nature of those expectations often goes unsaid but is clear and uncomfortable. Matt Dillon plays her team mate and frequent antagonist who projects confidence and condescension effortlessly. Zélie Boulant-Lemesle is an extremely talented young actor who never overplays her disappointment or fear.
Proxima is an understated but compelling drama film driven by strong performances and a fascinating insight into the unique challenges of someone trying to maintain ties to a world they are able to leave. It takes what is often the first act of other space movies and develops it into an engaging story of angst and anticipation.