Starring Ryan Golsing, First Man competes for a golden lion at the 75th Mostra. After acclaimed and oscarized La La Land, this new feature by Damien Chazelle takes us with Armstrong to the moon and tackles with growing mastery another of our myths.
By Diana Dabrowska
The expedition of Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 team is one of the most important myths, not only on the pages of literally every history book, but also worldwide pop culture. Armstrong’s landing on the moon was perceived as a symbol of the victory of democracy and the culmination of the American dream – yet no man, and above all, looking at the context of the Cold War, no Russian, could not manage to do this „giant leap for mankind” before. Nobody, however, previously dealt with the backstage of this cosmic trip or analyze the huge (economical, but most of all human) losses it brought. After the global success of Whiplash and La La Land, Damien Chazelle takes for the first time on a historical and costume film, telling the ambitions and worries, blows and shadows, of only a seemingly distant era.
Until now, the cosmos on the cinema screen was characterized by a basic note of danger, pathos and tragedy. Chazelle sheds new light on Armstrong’s story, which he does not see as another quintesential American hero, quite the opposite. The story could also be easily called „Neil Before Armstrong”. Chazelle’s approach also introduces in a different context this expedition, which today is perceived only positively, yet it was a tool in political struggle (from counter-cultural songs and demonstrations to presidential, lofty speeches), long preparations were constantly criticized on a broad platform.
Although the subject may seem distant and somewhat inadequate for such a young director, it quickly turns out to be the contrary. First Man is undoubtedly an other example of further artistic searching for Chazelle about these type of characters who in life are looking for the right pace and who slowly learn how to channel emotions by dissolving eachothers into their passion, people that are not fully adapted to society, outsiders, individualists; the idea of family is not a happiness recipe for them, but it is in contact with the loved ones that they get those fleeting moments of carefree happiness. Various scenes with friends and family resemble 60s. home movies, intimate and personal cinema. It is here that in my opinion beats the true heart of the film which is Mrs. Armstrong portrayed by The Crown actress Claire Foy. A mother, a wife, and above all a strong, smart and stubborn woman. The perfect mediator between the world of adolescent sons and outdated „lost boys” playing their expeditions beyond human measure into space. Although counting the screen time, it can be safely said that this is the role of clearly a further plan, it is worth emphasizing that it is difficult to imagine another actress in these part.
The expedition eventually serves as the background of the emotional emancipation of the main character; the cosmos becomes only a tool here, a certain affinity to tell an intimate, universal story about dealing with painful trauma and – by the way – sign up in the history of History. If we add to the picture narrative finess and technical craft, the Young Chazelle turn out to be the perfect descendant of Spielberg and Zemeckis school of cinema.
First Man, by Damien Chazelle, from the novel “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong” by James R. Hansel with Ryan Gosling, Jason Clarke, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciaran Hinds, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas, USA, 2018, 135′, In compétition.
photo : official picture (c) Biennale / Universal Pictures