The Gagarine housing estate was built in the early 1960s in the southeastern suburbs of Paris, and was named after Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin. Gagarin himself, we will see from archival footage at the beginning of the film, opened these apartment blocks into which the working class then settled. But as early as the 1970s, when France’s deindustrialization began, the white working class began to leave the neighborhood, and immigrants from Africa and Asia began to settle there, remaining the majority until the destruction of these apartment blocks. The destruction of these huge typical socialist buildings began in 2019 and lasted 16 months, and on the eve of their destruction, the debut duo Fanny Liatard and Jeremy Trouilh filmed a drama about the destruction of these old buildings.
“Gagarine” is one of the films that were supposed to be shown in canceled Cannes in 2020, and this story is told in a somewhat magical – realistic style from the perspective of a young man who is symbolically called Youri. This smart 16-year-old African, who is extremely interested in astronomy, physics and mathematics, is obviously named after the famous Russian astronaut, and he also dreams that one day he will become a space traveler. But he will also get the opportunity to create his own space station long before he will remain the only resident of Cite Gagarin once the demolition order arrives. Before that, Youri will try to do everything to save the buildings. He will launch a petition, a fundraiser for building repairs and almost everyone will see him as some kind of weirdo and lunatic, and once the time comes to move out and he realizes that his mother is not thrilled with the idea of moving in with her and her new family almost an adult son, he will decide to stay in the building scheduled for demolition.
Meanwhile, Youri will fall in love with the beautiful young gypsy Diana (Lyna Khoudri) who lives with her family in caravans nearby. When all the occupants of that real mammoth move out of the building, Youri will become almost forgotten and practically no one will know that he still stayed there. And he will decorate the interior of the building on the model of a space station, he will make a greenhouse where he will grow his own food, and with Diana, the only occasional guest of his new home will be a local dealer. As time goes on this Youri’s unusual attempt at escapism from harsh reality will become more and more serious. Because the closer the moment gets when the buildings will really start collapsing, this young man seems to be sinking deeper and deeper into his own world and completely losing touch with reality.
They eventually filmed Liatard and Trouilh in the end an extremely likable, warm and emotional drama in which they mixed the story of one real and current event such as the demolition of an apartment building with their version of magical realism. There is a lot of symbolism in “Gagarin”, a lot of current and problematic, but also nostalgic, especially when we look at old footage of Gagarin opening a then modern and lively settlement in which thousands of people found a home. Not even half a century later, the Gagarin block is one of the worst and most dangerous parts of the city, where it is probably not wise for a casual traveler to wander. But unlike many other films about similar blocs crammed with migrants from Asia and Africa, the author duo acted wisely to avoid falling into the clichés of another crime story. Rating 7/10.
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