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Out of this world
by Robin Pomeroy September 06, 2018
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Everyone knows what Neil Armstrong said as he stepped onto the Moon, and when Ryan Gosling delivers the line in “First Man”, which opened the Venice Film Festival on Aug. 29, it sounds like dialogue as familiar as “To be or not to be”.

But Oscar-winning “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle takes the viewer deeper than that epic moment when Armstrong took “one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind,” to show what it must have felt like to leave the world behind, with a high chance of never coming back.

“This was a story that needed to hinge between the Moon and the kitchen sink,” Chazelle said of the film that begins in 1961 as the United States trails the Soviet Union in the space race, through to the 1969 Moon landing — with many personal and professional crises on the way.

At the kitchen sink is Armstrong’s wife Janet, played by “The Crown” actress Claire Foy, who tells a friend she married the aeronautical engineer “because I wanted a normal life”, but finds herself bringing up a family in extraordinary circumstances.

The mundanity of real life in “First Man” contrasts with the enormity of the mission.

Armstrong is told he has been selected to head the Apollo 11 mission in the unglamorous setting of his work’s toilet. When he tells his son he is going to the Moon, the boy replies by asking if he can play in the garden.

“Their dad wasn’t an astronaut, he was their dad,” said Foy, who, like the rest of the cast, spoke to Armstrong’s family to prepare for a film that dials down the patriotic glory and focuses on the bravery and frailty of its characters.

While the Oscar-winning space adventure “Gravity”, which opened Venice in 2013, seduced audiences by the graceful beauty of floating above the Earth, “First Man” squeezes the viewer into a cramped capsule from which Armstrong gets occasional glimpses of the Moon as he steers towards touch-down — scenes Chazelle made deliberately claustrophobic and disorientating.

“Space is obviously mostly this kind of black void, and you’re travelling searching for objects, or searching for landing areas, in this expanse that is mostly completely nebular, and then on top of that you are in these kind of flying tin cans,” he told reporters.

“So everything about it felt terrifying to me and made me all the more amazed that it even halfway worked out — so I wanted to capture that.”

Co-produced by Steven Spielberg, “First Man” is based on a 2005 biography by historian James Hansen which hints at a remarkable gesture Armstrong may have made while standing on the Moon.

In the movie’s version of that scene, Armstrong lifts the reflective outer visor on his helmet, revealing his suppressed anguish as he remembers a tragedy in his life, many years ago and a world away, before composing himself for the journey home.

“First Man” is one of 21 movies in competition for the Golden Lion which will be awarded on Sept 8.


Ryan Gosling took flying lessons

Hollywood star Ryan Gosling said that he tried to learn to fly to play astronaut Neil Armstrong in an emotional new biopic about the strong but silent space hero.

The Canadian actor renewed his Oscar-winning partnership with “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle for “First Man”, which tells how Armstrong overcame tragedy after tragedy to become the first man to walk on the moon.

Gosling revealed how he took flying lessons so he could get inside the mind of the engineer and test pilot.

“I thought what I should do was learn how to fly. Neil could fly before he could drive. But not too long in when the instructor asked me to take the plane into a controlled stall, I thought ‘this is a terrible idea’,” the actor told reporters.

“There was a reason why Neil Armstrong was destined to be one of the best pilots of all time and I’m not.

“There was something very different about him and a lot of other astronauts,” Gosling said.

It took a “certain breed of person to get into a plane that has never been flown before and push it to its breaking point for the sole purpose of furthering our knowledge of aeronautics”.

Chazelle, who is half French and half Canadian, said the astronauts were universal heroes.

“When I first saw a Gemini I thought it was just part of the spacecraft — but it was the whole thing. I wanted to capture how terrifying it felt searching in the void of space in flying tin cans.”

Gosling, 37, and Australian co-star Jason Clarke paid tribute to the courage of the astronauts, admitting that just grappling with the claustrophobia of the space capsules was enough for them.

“The crew created capsules that were too authentic,” said Clarke. “It was a kind of meltdown. We had a seriously hard time sitting in the capsule locked in our space suits with three levels of doors closing on you.”

British star Claire Foy, who played Armstrong’s late wife Janet, said the film owed a “huge debt” to Armstrong’s sons and his late widow Janet, who helped vet the script and met the actors.

Asked what he looks for in a director, Gosling joked: “Good hair. A strong head of hair is important. And Damien (Chazelle) is half-Canadian, so that helps as well.”

Agence France-Presse

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