In space, everything has to be perfect. Humans have to be like machines, disregarding their own emotions in order to slow their heart rate and focus. Alice Winocour’s Proxima uses the emotional struggle of a mother letting go of her daughter to show that humanity is an extremely difficult thing to abandon. Eva Green gives a compelling performance as French astronaut Sara, who is a last minute addition to a space mission on the International Space Station and goes through the intricate process of planning for take-off, alongside the trauma of preparing to leave her young daughter Stella behind.
In Proxima, stunning sound editing focuses on clicks, ticks, and the noises of the sharp movements of machines, constantly reminding us of the imperative preciseness of every part of Sara’s job. Meanwhile, an eerie lack of score recalls the sheer silence and vastness of space. Filming on real space training locations in Russia, Winocour has clearly given a significant amount of time to research and provides a great deal of accuracy and realism, allowing us to trust and admire the process, while paying adequate attention to the emotional rather than the physical core of the story.
Winocour also gives weight to the persistent struggles of women in science, as Sara is repeatedly condescended to and underestimated by her fellow crewmembers. She is encouraged to medically stop her period and cut her hair before take-off, because ‘some things are just more practical in space’. By exceeding expectations of endurance and ability, and refusing to compromise her femininity, Green emphasises that women have earned and proved their right to be in space, and that their practicality is entirely equal to those of their male colleagues where it matters. Touches of details show that Stella has grown to admire her mother; the ugg boots she always wears recall astronaut space boots, she is able to recite the entire take-off procedure, and her face is perfectly reflected over that of her mother, both facing out, when they must connect through glass while Sara is in quarantine.
The film may be paced a little slowly in its latter half, with what could be considered a repetition of its central theme. However, in doing so, the dragging separation period between mother and daughter is emphasised. The difficulty in not having enough time to prepare and only delaying the inevitable is clear to the audience, as Stella gradually pulls away from her mother in order to protect herself.
Proxima does a beautiful job in creating an extensively realistic, multicultural and powerful atmosphere evolving around the advancements of technology and science, and the age old emotions of motherhood. In a cinematic world of strong male-led space travel, Proxima is diverse, inspiring and fresh, while showcasing great accuracy and film-making.
More information on the Glasgow Film Festival is available here: https://glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-film-festival.
[Katie Veitch – she/her – @_k8iv_]