Nothing says social distancing like jumping on a rocket bound for Mars.
Sarah is a French astronaut training at the European Space Agency in Cologne, the only woman in the arduous program. She lives alone with Stella, her eight-year-old daughter.
When Sarah is chosen to join the crew of a year-long space mission to Mars called Proxima it creates upheaval in the mother-daughter relationship. Sarah’s dream of interplanetary travel becomes a nightmare of infinite separation for Stella.
We teach our children to reach for the stars, that anything is possible, but, like everything else in the universe, that pursuit comes with a price. Sarah has dreamed of being an astronaut since childhood, has the intelligence, diligence and complete application to achieve that dream.
But the emotional pull of maternal love and protection is as powerful as gravity. Even though Stella is in the care of her father, the tyranny of the extraterrestrial distance weighs heavily on mother and daughter, with Stella seeing Sarah’s advancement as abandonment.
Sarah has to face breaking the celestial ceiling too, with lightly veiled sexism and stale stereotyping from male crew and training team members. The American astronaut captaining the mission, Mike Shannon, played with cheerful chauvinism by Matt Dillon, jokes that having a French woman on board means they will have a good cook.
PROXIMA brings a constellation of talents to this salutary tale. Eva Green is superb as Sarah, grounded yet ethereal, commanding an approximation of awe. The chemistry between her and Zélie Boulant as Stella is a complex compound which changes in composition, structure and behaviour as zero hour approaches.
Aleksey Fateev who played the venal father in Loveless, brings a much more considerate characterisation to his poetry loving cosmonaut, Anton, and Toni Erdmann star Sandra Hüller, plays a psychologist charged with the tricky task of guiding Sarah through her prelaunch duties and commitments, like whether to chemically block her menstruation and thus dispense with the added weight of tampons.
Five years ago, Alice Winocour co wrote the Oscar nominated Mustang, a fierce tale of female rebellion against gender and cultural tradition. Her writing and directing of PROXIMA continues that thematic thread.