The cinematic debut of French directors Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh, Gagarine is a breathtaking visual experiment, tackling rivalling themes of isolation and community by exemplifying them with an authentic society. Set in the corridors, apartments and squares of Cité Gagarine, a housing project in Ivry-sur-Seine, viewers follow the intrepid and caring Youri (Asleni Bathily) as he attempts to do all he can to prevent the building falling into disrepair. Named after the Soviet astronaut, much like the project itself, Youri dreams endlessly of space and the possibilities surrounding the universe, but when the council order the evacuation and destruction of Cité Gagarine, the challenges in his life and overall goals move far closer to home than the stars above.
Setting their film in a similar space to Mathieu Kassowitz’s 1995 La Haine, Liatard and Trouilh remove the urban grit that so often surrounds such housing projects, instead making the estate a playground for dreamers. Victor Segiun’s ambitious cinematography brings that vision to life, shooting buildings from angles that transform them into space stations, corridors with moody lighting becoming shuttles with operating technology, and ultimately displaying what feats can be achieved through simple camera trickery. One could even go as far as to say that a number of sequences are inspired by (and live up to the standard) of Stanley Kubrick and his 2001: A Space Odyssey, only this time Segiun achieves this perspective by only shooting man-made structures.
The score, created by Amin Bouhafa, Evgueni Galperine and Sacha Galperine, also accompanies the visual voyage, with sounds and symphonies created through synthesisers all contributing to a grander celestial ambience. But behind the deep, bold palette that splashes block colour and illumination through many scenes lies more beautiful language and a plot that places its real focus on a very real and present event. Gagarine isn’t really Youri’s story, but the story of a community as a whole and how, whether the inhabitants like it or not, change is being thrust upon them.
And it is in the choice of how to portray this that a significant problem lies. The plot seems to hold greater integrity when the focus is on Cité Gagarine itself rather than the galactic imagination of Youri, and yet, as it gracefully moves into its final act, the narrative invests wholly on his obsession with his home and space, removing the tenets of his community that made the story feel so intriguing. It is a fantasy movie, albeit with a foothold in reality, but Gagarine is arguably more powerful as a hard-hitting drama – the real rocket boosters that Liatard and Trouilh have chosen to detach after reaching the hour mark in the movie, leaving Youri as a lonely astronaut and a growing number of question marks.
Gagarine is released on 24th September 2021.
Watch the trailer for Gagarine here: