The cinemas are finally reopening with social distancing measures in place, the most effective being screening French dramas unlikely to draw a crowd.
Proxima follows an astronaut (Eva Green) preparing for a year-long stint on the International Space Station as she struggles to come to terms with leaving her eight-year-old daughter (Zélie Boulant) behind. French director Alice Winocour strikes an engaging sense of reality in early scenes between mother and daughter, where both actors give intimate, natural performances. Green plays against type in three languages, impressive considering Neil Armstrong couldn’t even get his line right in English.
Where First Man took a dispassionate look at Armstrong’s willingness to leave his family, Proxima agonises over a mother’s separation from her daughter. This celebration of womanhood backfires by overplaying the astronaut’s emotional fragility to the point that she jeopardises the mission, culminating in implausible and cloying scenes that feel more insulting than celebratory. What’s intended as a tribute to female astronauts ends up undermining their cause, while making the sexist assumption that they would be primary caregivers to their children.
Reality is further eroded by the inclusion of a male chauvinist caricature (Matt Dillon) who’s more Buzz Lightyear than Buzz Aldrin, his scenes unfortunately reminiscent of the “a woman” line from Moonraker.
Winocour draws interesting contrast between wonder and domesticity, her warm music and cold environments making for a welcome return to the big screen (even if scenes involving quarantine seem strange to watch when wearing a mask). Sadly the thematic material doesn’t sustain the picture to the degree of Gravity or even Hidden Figures, though it’s stratospherically superior to last year’s French-American space flick High Life.
After 100 minutes of astronautical motherhood metaphors involving tethering, Proxima‘s success is approximate at best.