the odyssey of a teenager in the space of a suburb


It’s the surprise of the week, and we urgently need to discover the parallel and dreamlike universe of Gagarin, first feature film by Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh. Coming from the documentary, the directors succeed in filming the Gagarin city of Ivry-sur-Seine (Val-de-Marne) like a spaceship where dreams are formed in weightlessness.

The real inspired this fiction, the threads of which seem to be pulled by the old elevator: faced, in 2019, with the imminent demolition of the brick wall – which was inaugurated in 1963 by the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968) -, the authors have woven a bewitching story around a romantic and resistant adolescent, Youri (Alséni Bathily), and a young girl proud to live in her caravan (Lyna Khoudri).

Audacity and dazzling

Youri, 16, so named in homage to the city where he was born, would like to take off and become a cosmonaut, but he is also viscerally attached to the community life of Gagarin, of which he is a pillar. The huge bar, like the belly of a whale, is also a cocoon that reminds him of his mother, who is far from him now (she has rebuilt her life and no longer takes care of her son). While the diggers are more urgent, the young man tinkers with a space thanks to a consummate art of recycling (tip of the hat to the decoration). Youri lives in his capsule, and, if the film works on the symbols – of self-sufficiency, of the first step on the moon – it also assumes them with a graphic inventiveness and a sense of the marvelous conducive to reflection.

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It is without discourse that half a century of concreting passes, large complexes which carried the utopia of social links. The film delivers snippets of suburban scenes where violence, as soon as it arises, is not given to us to see. No more trouble, the editing dodges, the subject is exhausted. The hero takes other corridors, even crosses the partitions, like a contemporary evocation of the Wall pass (1941), by Marcel Aymé.

Gagarin has the beauty of the first films which allow themselves the daring, the collages of images, the flashes that bring together distant worlds: a tower collapses, a rocket takes off, the detonations melt and mingle. The grace of the staging is also due to the movements of the camera, which, like a ghost, guides Yuri’s steps… on the moon or the top of the roof.

French film by Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh. With Alséni Bathily, Lyna Khoudri, Jamil McCraven, Finnegan Oldfield (1 h 38).