Mathieu Kassovitz Starrer ‘The Astronaut’ Bows in Cairo

Local audiences at Cairo Film Festival fell for Nicolas Giraud’s “The Astronaut,” applauding several times during its world premiere on Saturday, even though critics were less enthused. But it wasn’t the only sound that accompanied the screening, frequently interrupted by a cacophony of ringtones.

“What we shared here today was this unique experience of watching a film in a theater, together, an experience we need to protect as it’s endangered all over the world. But what I would like to say to you, people from Egypt…,” started actor Hippolyte Girardot.

“…Turn off your phones in the cinema! Goddamnit!,” added Mathieu Kassovitz during a Q&A that followed, eliciting a hearty laughter from the room.

“The Astronaut”

The film – produced by Christophe Rossignon and Philip Boëffard (Nord-Ouest Films) with Orange Studio handling the sales and Diaphana Distribution on board – is competing in Cairo’s international competition, with its festival director Amir Ramses describing it as a “really poetic story.”

“It’s about a man belonging to another universe: just like ‘The Big Blue.’ I had the same tears [in my eyes] when I was watching this film,” he told the spectators, referring to Luc Besson’s 1988 take on the rivalry between two champion free divers.

This time, however, Giraud is looking up, not down.

It focuses on aeronautical engineer Jim (played by the helmer himself), who has been dreaming of becoming an astronaut all his life. Unable to move on, and despite his family’s reservations, he comes up with a rather surprising idea: he will build his own rocket.

“I don’t know where this story came from. Maybe from the stars,” said a clearly moved Giraud.

“If you want to achieve something, you have to stay true to your dream, whatever it is. Me? Before getting here, I was a dental technician, I worked in a cinema selling candy and tearing the tickets. Believe in yourself. That’s the most important thing,” he told the audience.

“To me, making this movie was what building this rocket was to Jim. It felt exactly the same.”

Giraud wrote Girardot and Kassovitz’s characters with the actors already in mind, he said. Stéphane Cabel is credited as a co-writer.

“This [evening] is magical for me, because it’s the first time I am sharing this movie with them,” said Giraud. Hélène Vincent, Bruno Lochet and Ayumi Roux also feature.

Kassovitz, cast as an experienced astronaut who is helping Jim realize his ambitious – or crazy – project, has also delivered a masterclass at the festival. Apart from appearing in the likes of “Amélie” and “Munich” – soon adding Terrence Malick’s “The Way of the Wind” to his CV – the actor has also enjoyed a career as a director, making a splash with “La Haine” back in 1995.

But he wouldn’t mind venturing out into space either, even if the odds weren’t exactly in his favor. Just like in the film.

“It’s my dream. That’s why I said yes to the movie,” he said.

In the past, Kassovitz was also developing a project set on a space station, at one point called “MNP.”

“I spent 10 years developing it, spending time with astronauts, like Jean-François Clervoy. I had a chance to meet him and I have experienced amazing things with these guys. After a while, because the movie proved to be very complicated, I decided not to do it. My experience with the astronauts was enough [for me].”

“But then the same producer came back, saying: ‘Listen, I have this kid who is going to make the movie you wanted to make, do you want to be a part of it?’ My answer was: ‘Of course.’ I am proud of it.”