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TIFF 2019 Review: Proxima

Image Courtesy of TIFF

“The hard part isn’t leaving, it’s coming back realizing the world has gone on without you,” says one of the astronauts in Alice Winocour‘s Proxima.  The director, here last at the Toronto International Film Festival with 2015’s Disorder, has crafted a solid drama about the bond between mother and daughter and the conflict that can arise between ambition and parenthood.

Sarah (Eva Green) is an astronaut working within the French space program when she is recruited to fly a mission that will send her to space for a year, a training mission for the eventual manned journey to Mars.  As she begins the gruelling training process, Sarah must rely on her ex husband (Lars Eidinger) to help take care of her daughter Stella (Zélie Boulant), a difficult proposition as Stella starts to realize the potential danger of what lies ahead for her mother.

Sarah also faces the bias that comes with being the only woman, and mother, on this space mission.  When introduced as part of the crew, the American on board (Matt Dillon) says he’s happy she’s coming as, “French women are good at cooking.”  When taking her medical, the doctor says that since she’s decided to continue menstruating he’ll make sure that tampons are added to her hygiene pack – but this will come out of her luggage allowance.  She’s constantly told that she should pare back on her training since, as she’s been told her whole career, it’s going to be too hard.  But despite the physicality and her colleagues calling her a ‘space tourist’ instead of the educated engineer that she is, the hardest part for Sarah is realizing that as the days tick by, her time with Stella is fleeting.

While Proxima gives Sarah the most high stakes job possible, the struggle she feels could be applicable to any working mother whose job influences the bond with their child.  By concentrating on the journey and not the destination, Proxima makes Sarah’s plight instantly relatable.  This is by no means a movie about space travel, though those elements feel incredibly real, it is about her own internal conflict.  That conflict is shown in stark contrast to those of her male counterparts who seemingly have an easier time ‘cutting the cord’ to their family obligations.

Winocour, directing her third feature seems to have hit her stride in this creation that is unapologetically feminist.  She also manages to encourage some of Eva Green’s best work here as Sarah navigates the intricacies of motherhood.  Sandra Hüller (Seen at TIFF in 2016’s Toni Erdmann) also shines as an agency liaison that helps Stella through her familial transitions.

Proxima, in competition at TIFF as part of the Platform programme, should garner some more attention for talented writer-director Winocour.  It’s a powerful film that celebrates women and their accomplishments, especially in this profession that is overwhelmingly masculine.  Stay for the credits to see some real-life heroic influences.

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