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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Alice Winocour
prd Serge Hayat, Isabelle Madelaine, Emilie Tisne
with Eva Green, Matt Dillon, Zelie Boulant-Lemesle, Lars Eidinger, Sandra Huller, Aleksey Fateev, Trond-Erik Vassal, Nancy Tate, Gregoire Colin, Igor Filippov, Svetlana Nekhoroshikh, Anna Sherbinina
release Fr 27.Nov.19,
UK 31.Jul.20, US 6.Nov.20
TORONTO FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
This story about a working-mother astronaut may seem extraordinary, but it's laced with relatable, grounded authenticity that both highlights the parent-child dynamic and makes important observations on the issues around being a woman in a man's world. Remarkably, filmmaker Alice Winocour never preaches at all, bringing the themes to life through the characters and their superbly grounded interaction. It's an impeccably observed drama thats hugely involving.
An astronaut in training, Sarah (Green) lives with her 8-year-old daughter Stella (Boulant-Lemesle) at the European Space Academy in Cologne. And now she's realising her dream to travel into space on an important year-long mission at the International Space Station with American captain Mike (Dillon) and Russian crewmate Anton (Fateev). As Sarah travels to Star City outside Moscow and then Baikonur in Kazahkstan to prepare for liftoff, Stella will need to stay with her astrophysicist father Thomas (Eidinger). But this is much harder on Sarah than she expects it to be.
As a counsellor (Huller) reminds Sarah, "This isn't just a business trip." But Sarah treats everything as normal, even though Stella struggles to grapple with the enormity of it all. The film flicks back and forth between Russia and Germany, as Sarah struggles to fit into a sexist team and Stella settles into her new life, missing her mum. Meanwhile, Sarah's training is spectacularly shot in real locations to reveal her physical and mental challenges. So the thought of her giving up is devastating.
Green beautifully plays Sarah's inner conflict, with her head in the stars but her heart focussed on her daughter. She feels like she has to choose one role only. And she's unprepared for how wrenching it is to leave Stella, played with alert thoughtfulness by Boulant-Lemesle. As her estranged husband, Eidinger is charming and attentive, with an edge of gritty realism. And Dillon brings a remarkable complexity to Mike, soft-spoken yet disturbingly sceptical of Sarah's capabilities, although perhaps he's discovering how strong she is.
This is a more intricate depiction of what it takes to be an astronaut than we ever see in dramas, and the attention to detail highlights Sarah's inner conflict as she looks forward to becoming a "space person" even as she remains tightly bound to her daughter on Earth. Winocour skilfully lingers on quietly powerful moments that bring out deeper thoughts and feelings in natural ways. It's a remarkably universal story about the difficult decisions everyone faces, and telling the story within this setting makes it moving, provocative and important.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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