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★★★★ - STUFF 

- Eva Green is superb in this French Film Fest headliner - 

Before we see Eva Green light up the small screen as Lydia Wells in the BBC/TVNZ co-production of Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, there's a chance to see her luminous qualities on display as part of this year's French Film Festival.

In writer-director Alice Wincour's (Disorder, Mustang) Proxima, Green (Casino Royale, Penny Black) plays Sarah Loreau. Since the age of eight, she has dreamed of becoming an astronaut, now that finally might be about to become a reality. Sarah has been chosen as a last-minute addition to a multinational crew headed for the International Space Station. It's billed as "the last mission before Mars".

Her excitement though is tempered by the impact it will have on her eight-year-old daughter Stella (Zélie Boulant). Sure her estranged husband is still willing to step up to help, but after testing in Russia, there will be lengthy training in Kazakhstan, before the crew are quarantined just prior to blast off.

Despite the emotional wrench, Sarah throws herself into her gruelling schedule. But, while she seems to be meeting every milestone and mark, her crewmates appear to be plotting against her. The mission's captain Mike (Matt Dillon) insists on her lightening her load and undermines her confidence with suggestions she is just "a space tourist", while the appearance of a potential replacement causes further emotional erosion. It all means that when a rare opportunity to see Stella comes around she grabs it with both hands.

However, the increasingly rigid parameters of such visits cause tension, further increasing Sarah's anxiety levels. "I trained so long to leave Earth," she opines, "but now I feel so attached to it."

A slow-burning, but compelling drama, the heart and soul of Wincour and co-writer Jean-Stephane Bron's (Disorder) story is not Sarah's journey to potential lift-off, but rather the strain it puts on the relationship with her young daughter.

"There's no such thing as a perfect astronaut, just like no such thing as a perfect mother," she reflects, having angsted about her approach to juggling the two.
And it's in these quiet moments that Proxima really excels. That's also thanks to a terrific performance from Green, who not only convinces as an astronaut-in-training, but also as a woman conflicted by her choices.

Toni Erdmann's Sandra Huller also impresses in a key role, as a psychologist helping mother and daughter navigate the difficulties of their necessarily fractured relationship.

It all adds up to an emotion-filled watch, set against the backdrop of a seemingly sterile environment. Wincour and her team shot in some of the European Space Agency's real training facilities and there's a commitment to authenticity that really helps sell the premise. 

Forget Rocketman, for real heartwrenching viewing check out this tale of a rocket woman on the big screen while you can.

- James Croot, STUFF 

In French, English, Russian and German with English subtitles.

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