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Movie Review: Proxima

Man walks on an alien planet with a purple sunset

Spanish surrealist writer/director Carlos Atanes channels Philip K. Dick for his latest feature, Proxima, and ends up with his most down-to-Earth film yet — even if some of that “Earth” may or may not be in another galaxy.

Well, I actually don’t know Atanes well enough, even though I’ve reviewed several of his earlier films (Codex Atanicus and FAQ), to know if Dick was a direct influence on this particular project, but, like the author’s best work, Proxima continuously shifts its main character from one reality to another to the point where its not clear what the true reality is.

Perhaps the oddest thing about Atanes’ latest effort is that for the first time the action begins in a very recognizable modern-day Spain, during which the action is more straightforward than anything the director has done before. Right off the bat, we meet Tony (Oriol Aubets), a lovable loser type who, despite a great passion for all things sci-fi, can’t transform that passion into a career. Despite an investment from his girlfriend Natalia’s (Karen Owens) father, he’s forced to close up his sci-fi-themed video store. Although Tony can’t get his act together, he’s never presented as a pathetic character. He may make some mistakes, but he’s the kind of guy — particularly as played by the earnest and sincere Aubets — you’re rooting for things to start going his way.

Things do, sort of, in an unexpected way. One of the nice things about the film is that just about every time the action plateaus out, there’s an interesting twist to elevate the plot up to the next level. Reality doesn’t quite bend for Tony like they might in a Dick novel, but things happen to him so that he — and the audience — have to question his identity.

After learning that space aliens have been in contact with a popular sci-fi writer, Felix Cadecq (Manuel Solas), Tony is desperate to get into contact with the extraterrestrials, too, despite the fact that every other sci-fi nerd writes Cadecq off as a nutcase. Tony is at first only moderately successful in his quest, but he suddenly finds himself an agent caught between two warring factions. One, led by the mysterious Messenger (Anthony Blake), is manipulating him to ultimately fulfill his goal while the other, led by Natalia, wants to shock him back to his senses.

But at the midpoint of the film we can no longer trust where Tony’s real senses are. Tony, if you break it down, is a schlub. As he calls himself at one time, he’s probably the most unremarkable man on the planet. Why would anybody like him matter in intergalactic politics? That he does would indicate that the second half of the film is just a fantastical wish fulfillment he’s dreamed up for himself, which makes him a character in the mold of Jodie Foster in Contact or Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall. And like in those other films, the question comes down to if everything after a certain point in the film is only a fantasy, why would these characters construct a personal fantasy that in a lot of ways totally suck?

Atanes doesn’t get too coy with playing games “Is this or isn’t this really happening?” within the film itself. The action is presented pretty much along concrete lines to be taken at face value, which is shocking considering the director’s previous work. But it’s a successful new ground he’s treading while still retaining a lot of the playfulness of his earlier outrĂ© work.

Watch the Proxima movie trailer:


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