Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Skylab in the cinema, and in French too!

I'm not the only person obsessed with Skylab at the moment ........ French actress and director Julie Delpy is making a loosely autobiographical comedy set in 1979, in which an extended family gathers for a birthday party in Brittany on the weekend of the re-entry.

Julie Delpy herself was 10 in 1979, and the film will be presented from the perspective of the ten-year old Albertine (Delpy plays Albertine's mother). In mid-July that year, the world speculated about where Skylab would re-enter, and what the consequences would be (many thought the impact may make the Earth explode). In the USA, people sold hard hats as 'Skylab Survival Kits', and a restaurant invented the Skylab cocktail:  "Two of these and you won't know what hit you". In more war-torn parts of the world, people thought of taking refuge in air-raid shelters; and there was a level of anxiety created by the earlier re-entry of a USSR satellite over Canada which released nuclear fuel.

Thanks to the bloggers at Julie Delpy: A tribute to her talent, I can tell you what the plot is:

Scripted by Delpy, the film is structured like a long flashback experienced by Albertine and triggered by a train journey with her husband and two children. During the trip, she remembers another journey she made when she was ten years old.
We are transported from 2018 to 1979. Albertine is with her parents and maternal grandmother on her way to the house of Aunt Suzette, her father’s elder sister, to spend the summer holidays there.
It’s her paternal grandmother’s birthday and the whole family is gathered together, including uncles, aunts and cousins. Endless meals, heated discussions about politics, racism, sexuality and education: the parents pass on their anxiety to the children who hear everything.
Skylab, the US satellite launched by NASA, thus becomes a huge fantasised monster, when it is just an obsession of Anna, Albertine’s mother, a woman who is as charming as she is neurotic, and is convinced it will crash into the west coast of France.
Here's a shot of Albertine with the family at St Malo, courtesy of Karius de Parius:

Fittingly, the film is being shot as we speak, at the same time of year as the re-entry. The film is due for release in September, apparently, and you may guess that I will be at the cinema as fast as I can, since it combines two of my favourite things, space and French language.

And as I'm writing this, I realise that in my marking-and-thesis-draft addled brain, it has escaped my notice that the anniversary of the re-entry is coming up on July 13th! The day before Bastille Day .... perhaps I should combine my traditional Bastille Day brekky with a Skylab celebration!

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