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Film Review: Gagarine
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Fanny Liatard, Jérémy Trouilh France 2020

It’s rare to dedicate a film to a housing project, but directors Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh grew up in the Cité Gagarine in Ivry-sur-Seine, France, and wanted to recapture their once-lively community. Cité Gagarine was built by the French Communist Party between 1961 and 1963 to commemorate the Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space and who attended the Cité Gagarine dedication in 1963.

By 2019, Cité Gagarine was truly a center of integration, where people from different cultures, religions and backgrounds lived together, never imagining having to leave their homes. The 16-year-old Yuri (Alséni Bathily), who is deeply committed to Cité Gagarine, has himself dreaming of orbiting in outer space. Yuri takes us through a dreamy atmosphere of revolving planets with starry skies and a kaleidoscope of colors, all poetically woven using archival footage. These surreal sequences are interspersed with moments of the present. Well integrated, Yuri is also respected in his concrete housing block. Yet his past haunts him: we see glimmers of this, where his mother’s inability to manage her new life in France and care for Yuri leads her to abandon him. With strong connections and the help of friends and neighbors, Yuri fights to rescue the buildings, but in the end must reconcile with the fact of government intentions to demolish these buildings and that he has nowhere to go. Using his extraordinary skills, he begins to build a spaceship within the walls, while the others are all searching for new places to live. We travel with him on a magical voyage filled with both laughter and bittersweet sadness. Alséni Bathily’s performance is uplifting – and perhaps we, too, are filled with false hopes that this pandemic crisis will vanish quickly.