It’s been awhile since we saw Eva Green portrays a humane character—an ordinary woman with feelings and emotions—unlike her recent forays into peculiar figures. Her newly-found duty as Tim Burton’s second-generation muse (following the steps of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter) has somehow overshadowed Green’s capability to channel subtle emotion into a rare full-on charm. Only when she’s made a return to her home country, France, and worked with promising writer-director, Alice Winocour (Augustine, Mustang), she adeptly showcases the penchant she rarely showcases as in Proxima.
In Proxima, Green portrays an astronaut mother, Sarah Loreau—a placid, nonchalant yet determined figure whose life has been dedicated to pursue that dream beyond the literal stars. She takes in that she’s been granted a career-defining opportunity to train as a part of Proxima crews, a groundbreaking space mission that will be the first to lose sight of Earth. While off duty, she single-handedly looks after her daughter, Stella (Zélie Boulant), following her separation with ex-husband (Lars Eidinger). As the launch approaches, the series of missions and trainings unravel a heartbreaking rift in the mother-daughter bond. Will the once-in-a-lifetime mission worth the familial falling-out that could also last a lifetime?
Winocour, writing the screenplay with Jean-Stéphane Bron, has a high relish in probing answers to such a question. Is work-life balance actually attainable? In the presentation, Winocour dauntly plays out with the movie’s shapeshifting pace to give the illusion of work-life crisis. When Sarah spends any moment with Stella, the movie moves on quickly and the moments last only for a brief time. Meanwhile, as Sarah trains to prepare her one-year mission aboard the ISS, the movie takes time to reserve more explicit conflicts on board, especially with the American astronaut, Mike (Matt Dillon). This makes an allusion of time relativity that hits close to the ground even when the story sets up to take off among the stars.
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The pacing, however, poses challenges more than it constructs advantages in delivering the message. As Sarah delves in the technical mechanics of the narrative, the story becomes a little obsessed in portraying the real space training center, European Astronaut Centre. It’s, at times, forgets the purpose of its intimate family drama and dabbles into the astronaut’s training life with expertly shot (almost in procedural documentary fashion) training regimens. The whole diversions, however, flaunts Georges Lechaptois’ precise cinematography that eventually becomes Proxima‘s well-paid investment. In one of the final scenes in the movie, his camera locks on Green who stands across a glass shield while Boulant turns back on the camera from the opposite side of the glass. Green’s devastation is caught candidly while Boulant’s face—emanating an unimaginable anguish—reflects over Sarah, catching the whole mood of the story.
Green’s performance, granting her Best Actress nomination in César Awards 2020, is simply tantalizing. Her portrayal of an ordinary woman, albeit the extraordinary job, with an ordinary, humane problem, radiates the much-needed subtlety to make her character sympathetic even when the movie’s often looking away from that direction. Green glues together the pieces of potential that Proxima scatters and abandons for technical prowess. In the end, it’s Green that keeps the story on Earth even when the premise launches with the rocket.