The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - PROXIMA | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - PROXIMA

proxima review
An astronaut contends with the physical rigours of her training and the emotional toil of leaving her daughter behind on Earth.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Alice Winocour

Starring: Eva Green, Zélie Boulant, Matt Dillon, Lars Eidinger, Aleksey Fateev, Sandra Hüller

proxima poster

From wartime America's Rosie the Riveter to the female farmers of Soviet art, the image of a woman going about a job once considered the sole domain of men is a stock image of propaganda. In Alice Winocour's Proxima, the woman is Sarah (Eva Green) and her job is that of an astronaut. The primary purpose of propagandist art is to make you feel good about belonging to a certain group. Proxima could be viewed as a propaganda film, but it's not propaganda designed to serve the purpose of any regime, race or religion (though it does give Russia's contribution to the space programme some overdue Western respect). It's propaganda for humanity, and you'll leave Winocour's film feeling glad to be human.

proxima review

Sarah is a French aerospace engineer who gets her dream assignment of a year-long mission on the International Space Station. However, to do so will require her to undergo a punishing course of rigorous physical training to prepare her body for every possible eventuality on her trip to the heavens. There's also the small matter of the emotional toll of leaving behind her eight-year-old daughter, Stella (Zélie Boulant), for a year.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - The Woman Who Ran ]

Shot on location in Russia's giant astronaut training facility, Star City, Winocour's film takes an in-depth, almost documentary-like approach to the training regimes its protagonist is forced to grapple with. These range from performing menial tasks while floating upside down to rescuing a drowning colleague in a simulation of a splashdown gone wrong. Sarah arrives at Star City as one of Earth's great minds, and to leave the facility in the right direction (that would be up), she must essentially become a superior physical being.

proxima review

Proxima leaves us in no doubt as to just how special astronauts really are. What are the odds of someone who possesses the required level of scientific intelligence also being fit enough for such a task? Those like Sarah are as close as we have to real life superheroes, and while the marketing of female led comic book movies like to gush about how they will inspire young girls, Proxima is the real deal in this regard. Sarah is a welcome female role model who favours books over weapons. I envy any parents who get to take their daughters to this film.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - Farewell Amor ]

Of course, for special people to thrive, the rest of us need to give them our support. This is what was so romantic about George Lucas's original Star Wars movies, and what the recent reboots have gotten so wrong with their "everyone gets to be a Jedi" message. Not everyone gets to be an astronaut, and rather than sulking that we aren't the chosen one, we need to do what we can to allow the best of us to achieve what the rest of us can only dream of. In Proxima, Sarah is supported by a network of people all doing their best to make her journey as successful as possible, from her ex-husband Thomas (Lars Eidinger), who jokes about his jealousy of Sarah while feeling immense pride in her accomplishments; to Wendy (Sandra Hüller), a European Space Agency liaison officer who acts as a babysitter when Sarah can't be with Stella on the child's rare visits to Star City; and ultimately to Stella herself, whose admiration for her mother and youthful fortitude inspires Sarah to see her training through. What's great about Proxima is that it doesn't just inspire you to become an astronaut, it inspires you to babysit an astronaut's kids or walk their dog or water their plants while they're exploring space.

proxima review

All of this is anchored by a warm central performance from Green, an actor who was in danger of going down the Johnny Depp route of taking roles designed to counteract her beauty. Here she gets to play a human, one who represents the best of us, but importantly her Sarah isn't one of those awful "kickass women" so currently beloved by Hollywood. Rather she's simply a woman, and in spite of her immense talents, she possesses all the self-doubts that plague the rest of us. Those doubts are exacerbated by her gender, and what she represents as a female French astronaut, and by the subtle sexism of Mike (Matt Dillon), an American astronaut who wants the best for Sarah but has a boorish way of expressing it.

As this isn't a Hollywood movie, there's no guarantee that Sarah will be able to go the distance, and if she doesn't, she'll still have taken a closer step to the stars than most of us. After all, the most important part of reaching for the stars is the reaching itself. A crop of recent movies have used space exploration as a means of examining what it means to be human, yet while Proxima is a lot more grounded that the likes of Gravity, Arrival and Ad Astra, it's arguably more awe-inspiring because it reminds us that Sarahs really do exist.

Proxima is on Netflix UK now.

2020 movie reviews