In 1963 the Gagarine housing estate was opened in Ivry, France. Named after the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, who attended its opening. It was a building of the future, in an era of optimism where the possibilities seemed endless.
Now in the 21st century, the estate has been subject to deliberate underfunding and decline, and is slated for demolition. It is seen as out-dated, no longer meeting the needs of its inhabitants. Its modernist-brutalist architecture has fallen out of vogue, and would be considered an eyesore by today’s standards. The future it was built for has become a place of impoverishment, gentrification, displacement and disillusionment. It is a place of unfulfilled promises.
But not for Yuri, the main character in the film Gagarine. Named after Yuri Gagarin, just like his home, he is a believer. He tries against the odds to keep his community going, carrying out building repairs with his sharp engineering mind, hard work and creativity. He does everything he can to help and improve the lives of people there.
You see Gagarine through Yuri’s eyes, not as an ugly old high-rise, but as a world of intricate design, fascinating structure, and imbued with the warmth of the people it carries. The cinematography in this is just gorgeous, evoking through the architecture of this building the science fiction of the 60s. The lines of doors along the neon lit corridors are transformed into a sight as awesome as the interior of the spaceship, lined with hatches, in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Everything is made new and fresh in Yuri’s eyes. Everything seems taken for granted as a commonplace miracle. His is a world full of wonder.
And that’s the word I’d use to characterise this film – wonder. If you want to see something that will make you come alive again to the awes all around you, the night sky, the interlocking homes of a neighbourhood, the tenderness of hopeful imagination, this is the film to see.