Urban fantasy Gagarine celebrates community and social housing in a Paris housing estate, with directors Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh using sci-fi imagery to turn the prosaic into the awe-inspiring
It would be easy to imagine a social drama set in the Parisian banlieues to embody an urban grittiness well established by predecessors such as Mathieu Kassowitz’s La Haine, but Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh’s Gagarine is a stranger, more otherworldly creature. Set in the real-life housing project Cité Gagarine, named after the first human in space, Gagarine traces the building’s impending demolition through a daring science fiction framework that renders awe-inspiring what has long been considered mundane.
The housing project first appears on scene with celestial grandeur, the sun slowly emerging from behind its planetary breadth. Still aerial shots echo the magnificence of space photography. A camera rotates slowly down an elevator shaft, mimicking Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. There is a sense throughout Gagarine of the importance of being situated: in wide open spaces, within four walls, passing between different states.
It is an audaciously pervasive play with genre that belies and indeed empowers an extraordinarily grounded film about the inescapable politics of home. As the building’s largely immigrant residents are forced to rehouse, 16-year-old Yuri sets out to save Gagarine. His attempts are charged with the same science fiction static as the rest of the film, yet behind each is a tender, moving tribute to the community and safety that his home represents: a telescope gazing out on to a barren, terrestrial lot before focusing in on a group of women; plants grown in a Martian-like environment with gentle, compassionate attention.
Told with an unshakeable depth of passion, Gagarine is an ode to community and social housing on a cosmic scale.