VOD film review: Gagarine
Ivan Radford | On 24, Sep 2021
Director: Fanny Liatard, Jérémy Trouilh
Cast: Alseni Bathily, Lyna Khoudri, Jamil McCraven, Finnegan Oldfield
Watch Gagarine online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema
From For All Mankind to Gravity, the charting of space on screen has always been an irrevocably personal endeavour as much as a national, or international, achievement. Gagarine brings that bring personal connection down to earth in a poignant and joyous piece of cinema.
Gagarine takes its name from the housing estate in Paris that, in turn, took its name from Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Also named after him is Yuri (Alseni Bathily), the last remaining resident of the sprawling development, which has been earmarked for demolition. With his father departed and his mother absent, he’s made his home in the tower block – and so, with nobody left to look after the place, he takes it upon himself to play caretaker.
The more of himself he puts into the building, the more it morphs to match his personality, and what we see is a gradual transformation from a physical place of isolation to a spacecraft suspended in its own safe limbo away from the cruel world. Hidden between the empty corridors and broken lifts lies a beautifully observed celebration of community, with neighbour Diana (Lyna Khoudri) and friends Houssam (Jamil McCraven) and Gérard (Denis Lavant) helping Yuri’s dream to blast off.
Their existence on the fringes of society, held together by bricks and mortar, recalls Pablo Trapero’s 2012 White Elephant, where a society of outcasts builds itself around an abandoned building site on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. That understanding of how architecture and humanity define each other – also central, albeit to another extreme, to the satiric horror of Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise – gives what could have been a deeply melancholic film a real sense of soul.
Breakout star Bathily is wonderful as the remote but earnest young man, and writers and directors Jérémy Trouilh and Fanny Liatard bring his vision to life with an ingenious display of magic realism – and, thanks to those inventive visuals, Gagarine takes a downwards-looking tale of being left behind in the dirt and turns it into a heartfelt ode to looking up at the stars in hope. It’s a fantastical quest by one man to get away from reality, but it’s inescapably tied to social realism, a personal voyage grounded in creativity as much as self-preservation.
This review was originally published during the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival.