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TORONTO 2019 Platform

Alice Winocour • Director of Proxima

“You can be a good mother and a good astronaut”

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- On a rooftop overlooking the Toronto Film Festival, Cineuropa chatted to Alice Winocour about her new film Proxima, starring Eva Green, Sandra Hüller and Matt Dillon

Alice Winocour  • Director of Proxima

Alice Winocour was born in Paris. She graduated from La Fémis, and directed the short films Kitchen (2005), Magic Paris (2007) and Pina Colada (2009). Her first two features, Augustine [+see also:
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(2012) and Disorder [+see also:
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(2015), played at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Proxima [+see also:
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interview: Alice Winocour
film profile
]
is her latest film, and stars Eva Green, Matt Dillon and Sandra Hüller. Proxima, which screened in the Platform section of this year’s TIFF, was shot entirely on location, including at the European Space Agency. The film details the difficulty that a mother faces when she knows that her dream of going into space will mean being separated from her daughter for a year.

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Cineuropa: What was the genesis for Proxima?
Alice Winocour: I thought the figure of the astronaut separating from the Earth could resonate with the idea of a mother separating from her daughter. The script reflects the different stages of separation that a rocket goes through as it journeys beyond the atmosphere. It's not only my imagination, because the actual protocol of the Russian space agency calls it “umbilical separation”. There is also that expression calling our planet Mother Earth, so it's a metaphor for this attachment.

Why did you want to humanise the experience of astronauts?
Because, interestingly, films usually present astronauts as super-human, whereas being an astronaut is an experience of fragility, which comes from being in space. We are physically conditioned to living on Earth. In space, humans lose their sense of balance, the body grows three or four inches, and our cells grow older. It's tough to be in space, and the training is arduous. The film shows the mutation that astronauts go through to become this space person.

Because while space is looming in the background, the film is concerned with life on Earth…
It's a movie about how difficult it is to leave the Earth. What we don't often see in space flicks is how hard it is to leave the Earth because our bodies are made to live on this planet. We miss the smell of trees and being in nature.

Was it essential for you to put female characters front and centre in this, and your previous films?
You could say that it was the most important thing for me. My first idea was to make a film about a superheroine who is also a mother. They are two things that are not often represented in cinema together, as if they are incompatible. In real life, astronauts often have children, but we don't know this, because it's not talked about much. I think women don't talk about it, because they are made to feel ashamed. In this society, having children is considered a weakness, as it means that you can't be competitive. But it is a construction of society that you have to choose between your career and your kids. I think what the film says is that you can be a good mother and a good astronaut.

What made you think of casting Eva Green in the lead role? It's such a different part to how we perceive her.
I wanted a mother who would not look like a normal mother. That's what I liked about Eva: she is a kind of warrior. She has this kind of strangeness and also this grace, and I don't think it's a coincidence that she has been in so many Tim Burton movies. She is already a space person, in a way. She really dedicated herself to the film and trained very hard.

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