Directed by: Fanny Liatard, Jérémy Trouilh | 95 minutes | drama | Actors: Alseni Bathily, Lyna Khoudri, Jamil McCraven, Finnegan Oldfield, Farida Rahouadj, Denis Lavant, Cesar ‘Alex’ Ciurar, Rayane Hajmessaoud
We all know Yoeri Gagarin as the first human in space. What most people don’t know is that Gagarine is also the name of a neighborhood of flats in Ivry-sur-Seine, just outside Paris. Named after the Russian cosmonaut and also opened by him. And then there’s another Gagarine, in the guise of a 2020 French film drama.
In ‘Gagarine’ we meet Yoeri, an African teenager who lives in the neighborhood of the same name. The municipality has plans to demolish the flats, but Yoeri does everything he can to prevent that. Not by climbing the barricades, but by refurbishing the flats. A large part of the multicultural fellow residents supports this initiative, but at the same time the new houses that will become available in the event of demolition are appealing.
Does it all sound boring? Forget it! ‘Gagarine’ has a lot to offer, such as the curious fact that story and reality go together here at the same time and completely diverge. Yoeri’s story is all fiction, but the makers shot the film during the last phase of life of the real neighborhood. That gives film and location a special touch.
The first act is especially amusing. We see how a colorful community resists the inevitable. We see this from the perspective of Yoeri, who has an eye for the beauty of people and the environment, even if that environment of misery is falling apart. For example, the film opens with a number of environmental shots, of the detached kind of beauty that we also know from Claire Denis.
Somewhere halfway through the film, Yoeri is left (almost) alone in the flat, where he creates a beautiful space world of his own. All this culminates in a beautiful last act where all the lines come together in one long surreal intoxication. We see two lonely souls communicating in Morse code of light, like ships at sea. We see an interior as a spaceship. We count down to an explosion and a takeoff.
Still sounds boring? Then we mention the wonderful playing of Lyna Khoudry, as the cute and tough Roma girl Diana. The appropriate music from The Streets, among others. The feats of good-hearted humour. The encouraging message about solidarity and willpower. Enough reasons not to skip this special French film. You immediately know a lot about Gagarine the cosmonaut, the neighborhood and the film.