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by Lawrence Garcia Featured Film Horizon Line

Proxima | Alice Winocour

November 5, 2020

Proxima is a markedly incurious film, happy to diminish all complexity of its female protagonist.

Alice Winocour’s Proxima is a film constructed around a single premise: that astronauts can be mothers, too. By now, this should be revelatory to exactly no one, but this script — co-written by Jean-Stéphane Bron — seems to pretend that, say, Sandra Bullock in Gravity never happened. Admittedly, Winocour has, if not a novel, then at least a promising hook: No part of this astronaut movie will actually unfold in space, with the bulk of its runtime dedicated to the months-long lead-up to a Mars mission. Eva Green stars as Sarah, who, with fellow astronauts Mike Shannon (Matt Dillon) and Anton Ochievski (Aleksey Fateev), must undergo arduous physical and mental preparation (not to mention a quarantine period) before leaving Earth. “It’s procedure,” a psychologist (Sandra Hüller) tells Sarah, while attempting to help her young daughter, Stella (Zélie Boulant-Lemesle), acclimate to the forthcoming change.

And indeed, Proxima initially seems to have all the makings of a compelling, detail-oriented drama, grounded by the (at times literal) nuts and bolts of the mission’s preparatory phases. A scene where Sarah is asked how she wants to deal with her menstrual cycle in space offers, at the very least, a reminder of the details that so often go unremarked upon in movies about space travel. But too often does this plodding, unimaginative film rest on contrivance and cliche — not just manufacturing ludicrous logistical obstacles and phony conflict, but also making the (American) Mike glibly emblematic of the institutional sexism that Sarah must overcome. As a whole, Proxima offers no conception of Green’s character beyond the roles of “mother” and “astronaut.” It’s a film of marked incuriosity — and for a story about those who dedicate their lives (and bodies) to the pursuit of knowledge in the far reaches of space, that deficiency is no small thing.

Orginally published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2019 | Dispatch 3.