Approaching space travel with eyes and spirit firmly tethered to the ground, Alice Winocour’s “Proxima” takes a sadly unadventurous look at the impending separation of a female astronaut and her child.
When Sarah (Eva Green) is chosen for a yearlong mission to the International Space Station, her young daughter, Stella (Zélie Boulant-Lemesle), struggles to adjust to what feels like an abandonment. Their emotional journey, however — while tender and movingly performed — so consumes the film that both Sarah’s sexist captain (Matt Dillon) and Stella’s preoccupied father (Lars Eidinger) are so faintly drawn that they barely register.
With its detailed, documentarylike interest in the mental challenges and physical duress of prelaunch training (the film was partly shot in the European Space Agency’s facilities), “Proxima” has authenticity to spare. Yet despite its visual beauty (the gleamingly sterile photography is by Georges Lechaptois), the result is dramatically bland, with narrative threads that — like Sarah’s mysterious skin infection — simply fade from view.
Torn between the maternal and the cosmic, the tactile and the unearthly, “Proxima” feels as unsettled as its heroine. And while the film’s feminist thrust is admirable, Winocour’s decision to sacrifice this for a cheap, sentimental finale is infuriating. As Sarah’s reckless last-minute actions jeopardize not only her lifelong dream, but the mission itself, they also disappointingly undermine the movie’s own thesis: that the demands of motherhood and high-stakes careers are not mutually exclusive.
Making that point far more effectively are the beaming images of real-life astronauts and mothers scrolling past in the end credits. They made me wish that “Proxima” had fully embraced its nonfiction instincts and delved into their stories instead.