CRITICAL – “The first man” (“First Man”) has generated very high expectations since it was announced. Because it is the story of the epic legendary conquest of the Moon by Apollo 11 with Neil Armstrong at his head. And as it is put into the image by Damien Chazelle, who finds Ryan Gosling in the title role after the huge success of “For the love of Hollywood” (“The Land”). Mission accomplished.
Those expecting a bang of special effects and bearings of mechanical patriotic will be disappointed. Chazelle has chosen instead for this adaptation of the book by James R. Hansen a slow pace, tending patiently to his bow, dramatic up sequences are breathtaking of the lunar landing and the “small step for man and giant leap for mankind”.
The first man to place in the foreground the personal quest for Armstrong to rediscover the serenity after the death of his daughter, relegating that of knowledge and of the progress of the human race as a backdrop. This man lives with an inner wound so painful that it the cup of his emotions — Gosling, stoic, offers a remarkable performance where the slightest glance betrayed all the suffering of the world.
The madness hubris of the heroism of these pioneers of the space is not to be disregarded. It takes exemplary courage and a boundless faith to leap into the space in these boxes of sheet metal equipped with the equivalent of a Commodore 64. The film evokes the many failures in deadly missions, Gemini, and Apollo, as well as their devastating impact on loved ones. Chazelle is also a good place in disarray, the doubts and the support of Janet, the wife of Armstrong, played brilliantly by Claire Foy.
For his fourth feature, which was first presented as the opening at the Venice film Festival, Chazelle has chosen an approach that is low-profile after the prowess film Whiplash (2014) and For the love of Hollywood, winning six Oscars in 2016. The filmmaker is now, at the age of 32, the youngest in history to get the statuette for best director.
It centers its story on the point of view of Armstrong (sometimes in a subjective camera), in shades and colors corresponding to the period (between 1961 and 1969). On Earth, many big plans, hand-held camera and a remarkable mastery of the ellipses, which allow a progression smooth and constant voltage.
In the stratosphere and beyond, the director is permitted to spread its know-how, which goes from the waltz space of vessels (2001, a space Odyssey) to the dizzying scenes of the ascent are similar to a merry-go-round is breathtaking.
The first man is, without a doubt, an excellent film that manages to make us live near this incredible adventure. This is not a masterpiece for all that. The excess volume of the sound, sometimes, is a lack of taste. And despite all the empathy of his humanistic approach, he fails to sound at full volume the strings of our emotions. Not sure that the use, even parsimonious, archival documents is a good idea — one picks up.
But still. The first man embodies the very idea of what it is to cinema : an art that manages to make us dream of, while making us think. And that is the mark of a great filmmaker. There is no doubt.
• Title: The first man
• Genre: biographical drama
• Director: Damien Chazelle
• Actors: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke
• Classification: general
• Length: 2h21
• We like: the sound approach. The direction of the actors. The reconstitution of the major stages until the conquest of the Moon
• We don’t like: the excess of the soundtrack