Few can relate to the mental, physical and emotional strain it takes to prepare for a trip into outer space however many are familiar with the feeling of being torn between their life’s ambition and their responsibilities as a parent. Heck, forget life-long dreams sometimes it’s simply a weekend ambition involving pjs and ice cream behind a locked door – no interruptions – but you get the drift. That’s where we find her, the engineer Sarah Loreau (Eva Green). Separated from her husband, this single mother has earnt the opportunity to carry out her childhood dream of being an astronaut on the year-long space mission Proxima. However, the pull of motherhood proves exceptionally strong.
During training, Sarah struggles with the weight of the guilt she feels over the separation from her eight-year old daughter Stella (Zélie Boulant). Green’s portrayal of Sarah’s complex emotions is beautiful. Delicately executed, she is a concoction of tense, grief, longing and guilt all stuffed into a composed and professional package. Desperate to prove herself equal to her male peers she suits up daily and takes on each task with admirable gusto despite her bubbling emotions.
Director Alice Winocour deals excellently with the complexities women face when operating in a male-dominated environment. Sarah resolve is often challenged, she is undermined and is made to put up with the thinly veiled sexism of her colleague Mike Shannon (Matt Dillon). Green’s depiction of Sarah’s subtle defiance is apt. Though automatically perceived as somewhat inferior she sticks it out, remains professional and finds herself on the road to being seen as equal.
Boulant too, plays the part of the ‘abandoned’ child well. She wrestles with the pride she feels for her mother’s work and the desire to see her happy against her own insecurities of feeling abandoned. The upheaval in her life sees her relocate to live with her father, forced to adjust to a new school and a new environment in the absence of her mother which causes feelings of resentment. Boulant is well-suited in the role of the conflicted youngster and between the two (Green and Boulant) it is impossible not to empathise with their struggle in this beautiful mother-daughter love story.
It is their bond that keeps the movie ticking on during its slower paced moments that seem to drag. There is no action to be found, nor any real moments of suspense. The film is quite linear when it comes to pace and narrative and really relies on the strength of the relationship between Sarah and Stella as well as our ability to relate with their plight. Luckily, they are compelling enough and we as audience find ourselves not dispassionate but routing for two to maintain the special bond and for Sarah to persevere to the finish line. The situation gets a little dicey towards the end; there is a moment where we feel Sarah may have sacrificed it all for the sake of her daughter but it is fleeting and given our investment in the character’s success it’s pretty obvious that she will find a way to fulfil both her promise to her daughter as well as the promise she made to herself to commit to this mission. This movie won’t knock your socks off, nor will it have you at the edge of your seat eager for the next scene but it will move you and sooth all those who have been in Sarah’s position, reassuring you that you are not alone.