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In Gagarin’s opening moments, the view through a cheap telescope is Earthbound – of the scattered inhabitants of Cité Gagarine, a modernist slab of social housing in Ivry-sur-Seine, southeast of Paris. But in this beautiful and daring film, the 16-year-old owner – Youri (Alseni Bathily), living here alone – will be gazing at the sky both literally and otherwise. A DIY solar system mobile hangs in her bedroom. We could take his stargazing as a desire to escape. Rather the opposite.
After all, the City – as seen in dizzying archive footage – is linked to the space age, opened in 1963 by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, half a twin dream of stellar adventure and urban utopia. Now the two endure for its close namesake, even as the Gagarin falls into an envelope of exposed asbestos and bad wiring. (The current complex was demolished in 2019.)
Little is as melancholy as the future of yesterday. But Yuri is not downcast. Become a guardian, he organizes an evening of observation of the solar eclipse – gently charming. Later, the film becomes even bolder, a suburban Robinson Crusoe. Free from clichés, visually ingenious, Gagarin is a pleasure – pure magical realism, a homemade spectacular.
In UK cinemas from September 24