On the surface, the themes being hammered home in Promixa are fairly common and relatable. After all, so many people have to balance the demands of being a parent and being a professional. In particular, women do face this challenge quite a bit. Now, most are not astronauts, like in this film, but the point remains. In making the story as relatable as possible, even while being about an extraordinary character, there’s a grounded nature on display. That’s helpful, too, since the slow pacing may make this a challenge for some. Luckily, there’s more than enough to grab on to, making it a deliberate yet effective new drama. Plus, it’s buoyed by a really strong lead performance, one deserving of raves.
Proxima manages to be both a look at the physical training to go into space, as well as the mental toll that leaving behind a loved one entails. It’s a bit of needle to thread, but the film does it largely well. A deliberate pace is utilized to balance it out, though it does occasionally test your patience. So, you don’t necessarily get either side fully realized, but both are effective elements. Together, they combine to tell an effective story.
After Ad Astra and Lucy in the Sky last year, Proxima makes it a trio of sorts, relating to families and space travel. Now, the former is the best of the bunch, though the latter definitely brings up the rear. James Gray went far bigger budget, while Noah Hawley leaned into melodrama. Here, writer/director Alice Winocour strives for realism. That effort pays major dividends. Arguably, it resembles elements more of the year before’s effort, Damien Chazelle‘s First Man. It may seem cold at times, but there’s a deep beating heart of emotion when it comes to the mother/daughter relationship at its core.
Sarah (Eva Green) is a French astronaut, one training at the European Space Agency in Cologne. The only woman in the program, she’s used to having to do more and work harder for recognition. When not at work, she dotes on her eight-year-old daughter, Stella (Zélie Boulant). A single mother, Sarah feels some guilt about not spending more time with her, though they share a very close bond. That bond is about to be tested when she’s chosen to join the crew of a year-long space mission called Proxima. A mission to the International Space Station is nothing to turn down, even if it creates chaos in the mother-daughter relationship, so off Stella goes to her father Thomas (Lars Eidinger).
Sent to Star City in Moscow, where she’ll train alongside Mike Shannon (Matt Dillon) and Anton Ocheivsky (Aleksey Fateev), cracks begin to form in her spotless record. Some of it is the difficulty of the mission, but being apart from Stella is part of it, too. when Stella comes to visit, it doesn’t help as much as hoped, putting their relationship, as well as her professional standing, at risk.
Eva Green is amazing in the film. She immediately captures your attention and never lets go. Don’t sleep on Zélie Boulant, who delivers layered work for a young actress, and the same goes for Matt Dillon’s sturdy supporting turn, but Green is clearly the focus. She’s so clear in her love for her daughter, as well as her job, you never doubt her character for a single moment.
Filmmaker Alice Winocour, along with screenplay collaborator Jean-Stéphane Bron, strives for realism here. The occasions, particularly involving some manufactured drama involving Stella, detract from the sense that this all could easily be happening. Winocour’s direction is so steady and so focused on reality, it’s a shame that her script with Bron doesn’t fully follow through on that. Furthermore, her pacing stretches things out a bit more than is arguably necessary. The movie ends on a note that may not satiate everyone, but it’s in keeping with what Winocour is focused on.
Proxima isn’t going to blow away NASA junkies when it opens this week, but it’s not meant to. The goal is far more to depict the love between a mother and her daughter. In that realm, it’s definitely a success. As long as you’re not hung up on the space content, this is an indie that will challenge and overall compel.