Proxima review: Earthbound space drama with a woman at the core

A space film rooted in terrestrial issues when an astronaut and mother is set to leave her daughter before a mission…

In space films, women are often left out of the frame, or boxed in a corner quietly waiting for their husbands to return. Alice Winocour’s Proxima brings this male-dominated genre down to Earth and puts a woman at its core.

Sarah (a solid Eva Green) is the first French female astronaut to go to space but she’s also mother to the little Stella (Zélie Boulant). With her mission’s launch approaching, she has to separate from her daughter for a three-week intensive training in Russia before lifting off for a whole year. Unsurprisingly, this sudden change brings tensions in their mother/daughter relationship.

It’s refreshing to witness such an earthbound twist in the genre. Space flicks usually look at the stars, leaving the Earth far behind. Here, Sarah’s odyssey is more human than extraterrestrial, as she juggles blatant, casual sexism and the double standards society has towards parenthood. As much as the film shows Sarah breaking through her colleagues’ chauvinism without compromising her femininity, its stance weakens when it comes to her maternal duties. Whereas caring for her daughter while training shows the emotional depth of Sarah’s character, when her maternal role leads to unexcusable unprofessionalism it’s a loss for all the working mums out there fighting against prejudices.

Shot at real space facilities, the film is enriched by a quasi-documentarian approach. Sarah’s training feels extremely real because it’s based on actual programmes astronauts have to follow. Their bodies need to progressively shed their terrestrial coils for them to become space people. Conversely, Earth is what astronauts long for as they prepare to leave. In a grainy, sensorial sequence, Winocour encapsulates with analogical flair snippets of life on Earth: rays of sunshine caressing the skin, grass swaying in the gentle breeze, the natural soundscape that we take for granted. It might be a lot to pack in but the film prepares for a severe detachment and there’s no time to look back.

Proxima is in cinemas on 8 May.