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Programme Notes: The Astronaut


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Please note: These notes contain important plot points and so are best read after watching the film.

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The Astronaut, also known as L’Astronaute, is a French-Belgian production about an aeronautical engineer, Jim, who has the dream of building his own rocket ship and accomplishing an amateur space flight. The film is directed and written by Nicolas Giraud (with screenplay writing assistance from Stéphane Cabel), who also plays Jim, the titular astronaut. Jim’s entire goal is to achieve the build and flight all by himself with minimal help from others, but he reaches a point where he realises that in order to achieve this goal, he’ll need help from someone more experienced. Alexandre Ribbot, a former astronaut, played by Mathieu Kassovitz (best known for directing the popular film La Haine, and for his role of Nino in Amélie), becomes Jim’s mentor for the project. Jim, with help from Alexandre and a small team of local math/science enthusiasts and his grandmother, achieves his ultimate life goal of going into space in his very own rocket.

This year’s cohort of Young Selectors selected The Astronaut for how beautiful and gentle the film is. They found the film’s grounding in reality and slow-burn pacing rather mesmerising, as well as finding Jim’s goal and endless passion for space very inspiring. Some Young Selectors have dubbed it “the film about figuring out how to steal from your work” as Jim is seen stealing parts for his rocket from his engineering job — but ultimately it is a film about hope, resilience, passion, and learning to open up and let people in to help you achieve your goals. The Astronaut is quite unlike other films in the ‘space’ genre of movies. This genre is quite large now and could be divided into subsections, or sub-genres; there are the creature space thrillers such as Life (2017, dir. Daniel Espinosa) and Alien (1979, dir. Ridley Scott); survival in space such as The Martian (2015, dir. Ridley Scott) and High Life (2018, dir. Claire Denis); classic astronaut space mission such as Ad Astra (2019, dir. James Gray), First Man (2018, dir. Damien Chazelle), Gravity (2013, dir. Alfonso Cuarón), and Proxima (2019, dir. Alice Winocour). There is also the separate yet connected sub-genre of space sci-fi, such as the Star Wars and Star Trek series and perhaps even Dune (2021, dir. Denis Villeneuve) could fall in with this group. And of course 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, dir. Stanley Kubrick) and Interstellar (2014, dir. Christopher Nolan) which create their own genres and sub-genres with how they explore the space theme. It could be said that The Astronaut too could be capable of creating its own sub-genre; a genre of films about space amateurs, space lovers, or even engineers turned astronauts.

The Astronaut certainly brings a fresh take and outlook to space and astronaut films, and it is overall a very lovely and calming film. What I enjoy and admire so much about the film is the curiosity and innocence that Jim has all throughout the story. It can sometimes be seen as naive or reckless, but in a way, Jim has preserved the fearlessness and curiosity that we possess as children; wholly unafraid of the unknown and having no fear of failure — just the intense passion of wanting to at least attempt something. Jim’s story is moving and heartwarming, in how he had a goal from a young age (to become an astronaut and go into space) and worked towards it. When he was rejected from the space programme he was discouraged, but nonetheless persisted and didn’t give up on his dream. As dangerous and stupid it may sound to a regular person to build your own spaceship in your backyard and attempt to launch into space, Jim did everything he could to make this impossible idea a possible reality; he studied hard and worked as an engineer at an aeronautical company where he learned more about achieving his goal, and then applied it to his own plan. The Astronaut makes the impossible seem possible. It is also very interesting that Jim doesn’t necessarily care whether he lives or dies with this space flight; he is willing to die trying, because to him that is better than not trying at all. His parents and people around him warn him about the dangers of this project and fear for his life, but Jim, aware of the risks, is willing to try it anyway. To have such a passion and dream for something, and to commit yourself to it wholly and work towards it endlessly like that is very admirable. “Reaching one’s goal can be a long and winding road” but how wonderful is it when you finally get there. My personal favourite thing about The Astronaut is the ending. The whole film Jim is working towards getting into space, and the audience expects the ending to be that he doesn’t make it into space or that something goes terribly wrong, but finally… Jim is in space like he always dreamed. He is engulfed and consumed by the infinite abyss and darkness of space and it is visually spectacular to see. The movie ends with Jim still in space, which leaves audiences guessing whether he chose to stay in space forever or if he returned home to everyone who loves him. The message in the The Astronaut is not only to have dreams and passions and to pursue them with absolute determination, but to also remember to look around every once in a while and appreciate what you have, and who you have, around you. Especially with Jim and his dream of going into space; he is so desperately set on shooting off into space that he often neglects his real life. “Stargazing is all very well, but…don’t miss out on planet Earth.” Whenever trying to reach your goals, don’t forget to take in what you have now, because the future is bright but when you get there it may be blinding and you will wish you were back in the past.

GFF Young Selector, Julia Mazur
20 March 2023

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