MOVIE OF THE WEEK November 6, 2020: PROXIMA

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Alice Winocour’s drama Proxima may be about a woman who’s getting ready to head to space, but it’s the very earthly ties that bind us to this planet — and to each other — that are at the heart of this thoughtful film. Starring Eva Green as French astronaut Sarah Loreau, Proxima explores the intersection of professional ambition and motherhood in a way that will ring true for anyone who’s ever had to balance personal and professional demands.

Sarah has trained for years to get the opportunity to go to the stars, so when she’s finally offered the chance to join a crew heading to the International Space Station, she’s giddy at seeing her dream come true. But as the realities of saying goodbye to her young daughter, Stella (a remarkable Zélie Boulant), for a full year start to become apparent — and the rigors of training take their toll — Sarah’s focus wavers. Surrounded by a crew of men, including brusque American Mike Shannon (Matt Dillon), who see any perceived weakness as evidence that Sarah may not be fit to fly, she finds herself increasingly alone.

Most working moms luckily don’t have to choose between a full year away from their kids or losing their job, but Sarah’s conflict serves as a macro example of the exact pressures and hard choices that professional parents — and, disproportionately, moms — face every day. Help with homework or miss an important meeting? Trust your ex to get your kids where they’re supposed to be on time or micro-manage from a distance? Be glad you have excellent childcare or resent the caregiver for being there for your kid when you can’t? Tuck your daughter in at night or schmooze with VIPs?

Green does an excellent job portraying Sarah, expertly conveying her character’s feelings as she’s put through the emotional wringer. Her rapport with Boulant is nuanced and believable; Sarah’s pain at not being able to be there for Stella the way she wants to be is palpable, and Stella’s desire to push her mother away if she can’t keep her close is heartbreakingly real. With both her well-observed script and her careful direction, Winocour crafts a story that lingers like fading starlight.– Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Nikki Baughan: Eva Green gives an absolutely stellar performance in Alice Winocour’s exceptional film. Both Green and Winocour wear Proxima‘s feminist credentials lightly, however. Neither screenplay nor performance act as soapbox; they don’t need to. The message is woven into the fabric of the film, which benefits from some beautiful, textural cinematography from Georges Lechaptois whose camera often rests on intimate moments. That the film’s power lies in these small interactions is indicative of a writer/director at the top of her game. Read full review.

Susan Wloszczyna: The French sci-fi drama Proxima, is among the several notable space-travel features that have blasted off in this decade. But this is the first to have a female in the director’s chair. Namely, Alice Winocour, who uses down to earth human emotion and family issues for the film’s rocket fuel. Read full review.

Leslie Combemale Eva Green, as a conflicted mother and brilliant scientist who longs to achieve her dream of space travel, captures an inner struggle that makes Promixa’s story entirely relatable. Writer/director Alice Winocour’s film as a whole creates a haunting, palpable dread that women of all backgrounds experience as they step out of the patriarchal boxes we are ever-expected to keep ourselves to, regardless of our supposed liberation.

Pam Grady: An astronaut has her eyes on the stars even as her heart remains firmly planted on Earth in Alice Winocour’s compelling drama. Sarah (Eva Green) is about to realize a lifetime dream when she joins a Mars probe. But she is also mom to a precious young daughter, Stella (Zélie Boulant-Lemesle), and the expedition will keep them apart for a year. Shot on location at the European Space Agency’s training facility in Germany and Russia’s Star City, the drama is richly evocative in its observations of the extraordinary demands of space flight—and the sexism and condescension Sarah experiences in what is still largely a man’s world. More vitally, Winocour limns the relationship between mother and daughter, pride in Sarah’s achievement competing with anxiety over their looming separation. Supporting turns by Lars Eidinger as Sarah’s supportive astrophysicist ex and Matt Dillon as an American astronaut whose brash surface hides unexpected depth add more layers of complexity to Sarah’s situation. Ultimately, though, Proxima revolves around Sarah and Stella. Green and her young costar movingly portray a parent-and-child relationship under stress – and the unbreakable bond between them.

Loren King Proxima is a profoundly intimate film from French director Alice Winocour that explores motherhood at its deepest level. It is an ambitious, unique mother/daughter story where the action takes place in the between-world of earth and outer space, as astronaut Sarah (an extraordinary Eva Green) is rigorously preparing for space travel while her young daughter, Stella (the exquisite Zélie Boulant-Lemesle), remains back home. Both Mom and daughter navigate unknown territory as Sarah trains with the European Space Agency for a lengthy mission to the International Space Station while Stella quietly faces her fears as she adjusts to her new life with her estranged father and long distance face-time calls with Mom. Proxima is every bit the superbly crafted human-in-outer-space-drama as the recent male-anchored films Ad Astra or First Man. Green deftly captures the push-pull of motherhood and stressful professional demands as she anchors this luminous film that’s grounded in reality but transcends its earthly themes for something otherworldly.

MaryAnn Johanson Barely more than half a century into humanity’s space travel, we already have so much mythology of astronauts. Of male astronauts. Rocket Man and Major Tom and Neil Armstrong and The Martian’s Mark Watney. Where are the women? There have been tons of women astronauts, and tons of astronauts who are parents, and yet we have, culturally, said almost nothing about astronauts’ relationships with the children they leave behind. So I love Proxima for bringing a new humanity — an almost fundamental humanity — to the story of those who risk so much and embrace great dangers in order to advance human knowledge, and the dichotomy of doing so while also risking their relationships with their children. Eva Green is immense here. Alice Winocour’s compassion is profound. I love this movie. Read full review.
Jennifer Merin Proxima, French filmmaker Alice Winocour’s beautifully crafted character-driven sci fi drama about a French woman astronaut who is engaged in the grueling training for an international mission to Mars. She faces chauvinist assumptions by her all-male team and, at the same time, is coping with the impact that her professional commitment is having on her young daughter. Eva Green’s performance as the astronaut is stellar, and her chemistry with Zélie Boulant, the young actress who plays her daughter, is simply magical.

Nell Minow: Proxima is a companion piece to Ad Astra, both using journeys to space as a metaphor to examine the conflicting responsibilities of work and family and the longing for connection. Both, too, explore the way the experiences and lessons of our youth haunt and sometimes distort our adult lives. Eva Green plays Sarah, who is following her childhood dream of being an astronaut but who is acutely aware that her own daughter’s dream may be to have her mother stay home.

Sandie Angulo Chen: French director Alice Winocour’s sci-fi drama Proxima is like a combination of The Right Stuff and Netflix’s series Away, a near-future film focusing on a single-mother astronaut Sarah Loreau (Eva Green) selected for an International Space Station mission. Understated and beautifully acted, the film explores the sexism Sarah faces as well as the difficulties of leaving behind a school-aged daughter with her ex-partner. A compelling and thought-provoking film about how women in elite occupations still face double standards when it comes to work-life balance.

Kathia Woods There have been many movies about Space. Proxima is different. Unlike previous outings, Proxima mainly takes place on earth. Here are some themes discussed in this film: the balance of being a working parent and the complexity of preparing for space. The most important aspect of this film is showing what women endure in the space program, mainly in training: the sexism and the inappropriate questions about their period and hairstyle. The highlight of this film is the mother-daughter relationship. The outstanding performances from Eva Green and Zélie Boulant are the emotional core of the film. This is Eva Green’s most challenging role in years. Everything about this film works. It was nice to see a film tackle space from a woman’s perspective and feel authentic. Women are often forced to make difficult decisions in the name of ambition. Proxima shows how steep a price they pay.

Liz Whittemore Eva Green shines in a film about the double standards women face when they shoot for the stars. The misogyny faced in a predominantly male field is no stranger, even to our band of journalist sisters here at AWFJ. We’re constantly being told how our opinions are less valid, we’re spoken over, or right out ignored. Director Alice Winocour highlights the societal questions that women are asked about work-life balance, the guilt that comes along with it, and the strength it takes to endure. Green gives us exactly what we need. The struggle is evident in her physicality and even a simple glance. She is an open book. While the film felt long, only in the end did I realize the importance of such a run-time. It exacerbates the separation anxiety for both the characters of Sarah and her young daughter Stella, played brilliantly by Zélie Boulant. One of the most impactful decisions was to include the photos of female astronauts throughout history. Most notably with their children. Proxima succeeds in its honesty and wows in its realism. The film is aptly titled. As a parent, when you are essentially the center of the universe for so many, your decisions bear more weight than usual.

Cate Marquis In French filmmaker Alice Winocour’s Proxima, a woman astronaut named Sarah (Eva Green), preparing for an international expedition to Mars, faces sexist treatment from her two male fellow astronauts, particularly the American (Matt Dillon) who leads the team. While she pushes herself to prove herself in the face of skepticism, she also struggles to find work-life balance between her career dream to going to space and her young daughter, struggling in school and missing her mother even before she leaves for training. Winocour avoids familiar pitfalls of similar sci-fi tales to focus on the human drama in a way that feels palpably real.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: Proxima

Director: Alice Winocour

Release Date: November 6, 2020

Running Time: 107 minutes

Language: English, French, German, Russian with English subtitles

Screenwriter: Alice Winocour and Jean-Stéphane Bron

Distribution Company: Vertical Entertainment

Trailer

Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wlosczcyna, Kathia Woods

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).