Review by Sean Boelman
For better or worse, Alice Winocour’s Proxima is probably one of the quietest and most astronaut movies ever made. And while its largely understated story keeps it from being particularly exciting, the nuanced and emotional family drama which it offers allows it to stand out.
The film follows an astronaut as she trains for a year-long mission aboard the International Space Station, all the while trying to maintain her relationship with her young daughter. There are the obligatory spacefaring moments like the protagonist going through the trials to become an astronaut, but those are not the focus.
Instead, Winocour is much more interested in the mother-daughter relationship. Admittedly, there isn’t a whole lot of external conflict, but the movie doesn’t need it. The beats of the arc are familiar, although Winocour approaches them from such an empathetic and authentic perspective that one would have to be heartless for them not to connect.
There are certain elements of the story that one wishes that the film would have explored with more depth. For example, the protagonist is a female astronaut in a predominantly male-dominated field. Although the working relationship that forms between herself and her captain is a plot element, it doesn’t go much further than surface-level feminism.
Winocour and co-writer Jean-Stéphane Bron do a great job of making their characters feel three-dimensional and compelling. They use the archetypes of the genre and layer upon them to defy expectations and make something grounded out of a genre that frequently has its head in the clouds.
Of course, this type of character study doesn’t work without a great central performance, and Eva Green delivers some career-best work in her leading role. Subtlety is the name of the game here, and Green shows an immense amount of restraint, using even the smallest of mannerisms effectively. And in the supporting cast, Matt Dillon is solid with a small but effective turn.
Visually, the film is gorgeous, but also very low-key in nature. Unlike a lot of space movies, this isn’t flashy. The production design is sleek and detailed, but hardly ever the focus of the camera. And while there are a few gorgeous shots used to put the viewer in the mindset of the characters, they never distract from the emotion at hand.
Proxima isn’t exceptional in the expected ways, but it is still notable for being a lot less garish than most of the genre. Come for Eva Green’s great performance and stay to see a family drama that packs a legitimate emotional punch.
Proxima hits VOD on November 6.