The Movie Waffler New to VOD - GAGARINE | The Movie Waffler


gagarine review
A space-obsessed teenager refuses to leave his soon to be demolished tower block.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Fanny Liatard, Jérémy Trouilh

Starring: Alseni Bathily, Lyna Khoudri, Jamil McCraven, Finnegan Oldfield

gagarine poster

The utopian dream of the 1960s comes crashing to earth in a pile of rubble in Gagarine, the feature debut of directors Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh, who previously told this story in short film form. The title refers to the film's real-life setting, a giant housing project on the outskirts of Paris which was named in honour of the first man to leave Earth's orbit. Gagarine opens with archive footage of the cosmonaut visiting the project in 1963, surrounded by its new residents, a working class mix of Parisian locals and post-war immigrants from France's colonies. Reflected in Yuri Gagarin's smile and in the swelling crowds that greet him is a sense of optimism, of hope for the brighter future the space race might bring us.

gagarine review

But just as the craft that launched Gagarin into space would never be allowed off the ground by today's standards, so too has Gagarine become uninhabitable in the decades since it was built. Now riddled with asbestos, the building has been condemned and is set to be demolished once its residents have been rehoused.

While most of Gagarine's tenants are happy to leave the complex, teenager Youri (Alséni Bathily; think a French John Boyega), abandoned by his mother, is desperate to remain on site. After naively attempting to rewire the building and fix some of its electrical problems with fuses and cables salvaged from a local scrap yard, Youri is forced to face the cold truth that the building is set to be reduced to a cloud of ash. When the other residents leave, Youri remains behind, along with a stubborn drug dealer (Finnegan Oldfield), and sets about turning a floor of the building into a replica of the interior of a spacecraft, complete with a Silent Running style garden.

gagarine review

Liatard and Trouilh shot their film while Gagarine was in the process of being dismantled, their own filmmaking mirroring the quest of their young protagonist to make something of this project before its destruction. From the filmmakers' side, the motivation appears to be to create a historical document of a disappearing Paris, as they pepper their film with archive footage of the area, including home movies of a young Bathily. From Youri's side, he seems intent on saving the name of Gagarin as much as the building itself, so obsessed is he with space travel and the legacy of the cosmonaut who shares his name.

Like another recent French drama that blurs the lines between fantasy and social drama, Zoe Wittock's Jumbo, Gagarine takes its storytelling and aesthetic cues from Spielberg and his '80s acolytes. The ending, which sees a gathered throng gaze in wonder at lights in the sky, is straight out of Close Encounters, while the idea of a young boy trying to save something from an adult world that can't see its value feels inspired by ET. Youri has a very sweet and charming Amblin-esque romance with a young Roma girl (Lyna Khoudri, the breakout star of last year's Papicha) whose family's encampment is itself under threat as it lies in the shadow of Gagarine.

gagarine review

But like so many films that draw on Spielberg, Gagarine too often does so on a superficial level. It captures Youri's sense of wonder through its fetishised visuals, but it's a film that feels a little too glossy and polished for its subject matter. The eponymous housing project - which let's face it, was an architectural monstrosity designed by city planners to keep "undesirables" (i.e immigrants and poor people) as far from the tourist hotspots of Paris as possible – is romanticised to a degree that suggests Liatard and Trouilh find it more fascinating than the people that resided there. Rather than paying tribute to the hearts and minds of a working class community, Gagarine seems more concerned with its bricks and mortar.

Gagarine is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2021 movie reviews