Jim Desforges (Nicholas Giraud) is an aeronautical engineer with a dangerous secret. For years, he has been stealing equipment from work in order to achieve his dream: to launch the first amateur manned space flight. Though he was planning to undertake the whole project on his own, as lift-off nears, it becomes ever more clear that he’s going to need some help. His first port of call is Alexandre Ribbot (Mathieu Kassovitz), a former astronaut eager to take to the stars again, even if just vicariously.
With the discovery of Jim’s embezzlement setting a ticking clock in motion, Jim and Alexandre, along with some friends they make along the way, must hurry to launch their rocket into space before they’re all arrested.
Let’s get straight to the point: The Astronaut, the feature directorial debut of French actor Nicholas Giraud (who also stars, and co-wrote the screenplay), is quite the slog. Graded in that dreary ‘this is a serious movie!’ grey-blue colour palate, almost entirely devoid of humour, and rather low on warmth too, there’s very little there for an audience to engage with. There’s a lack of subtext, no subplots, and only one interesting supporting character – if you aren’t invested in Jim achieving his dream, then you’re sunk.
And there’s an off-putting arrogance to Giraud’s assumption that we will side with his budding astronaut just… because. Although we do get a single scene in which the other members of his ragtag group explain their reasons for joining in, the film is foremost concerned with his achievement of his dream. Never mind that he’s been stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment from his workplace, or that a disaster with his rocket could kill others as well as himself, or even start an international war by activating intercontinental defence missile systems – the pure fact that this man wants this thing is supposed to be enough for us.
Perhaps it could have been, if Giraud was a more exciting actor. Alas, he’s a charisma black hole with a grand repertoire of two facial expressions, the most prominent of which being a continual rabbit-in-the-headlights look of mild surprise. He hasn’t helped himself in the screenplay (which he co-wrote with Stéphane Cabel) with any interesting character traits either – he’s just a man who, inspired by his space-obsessed grandpa, desperately wants to be an astronaut. When compared with an intriguing, enigmatic actor like Mathieu Kassovitz, who’s also playing a far more compelling figure, he withers.
Thank goodness Kassovitz is there though; if he wasn’t, the movie really would have nothing. There is a real poignancy to his Alexandre Ribbot – an astronaut who never wanted to come back down to earth. If there is any way to emotionally engage with The Astronaut, it’s through the bittersweet pleasure Alexandre takes in helping to send Jim to the stars.
Now if the film had been told from his point of view, it might well have been a genuinely stellar experience.