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Chazelle’s film revisits moon shot

Saturday, September 1, 2018

By Jake Coyle

AP Film Writer

NEW YORK

Damien Chazelle’s last movie, “La La Land,” was about a man clinging to nostalgia. His new one, “First Man,” doesn’t merely flirt with the past. It throttles back in time.

But Chazelle’s reason for revisiting NASA’s 1969 mission to the moon isn’t to polish the shining legend of Neil Armstrong. It’s to jolt our collective memory of it – to rip it out of the history books and plunge us back into the harsh, anxious reality of what at the time was far from a fait accompli.

“Our generation grows up in a world where people have walked on the moon and you see the photos. They’re all kind of glossy and burnished and we think of this idealized past and there’s a sort of pure nostalgia that comes with that,” Chazelle, the 33-year-old director, said in an interview. “But the more I dug into the research the more fascinating it was to find out, A, just out hard it was to pull this off, and B, how unlikely it was, how close to failure.”

“It was a much more complicated thing than I think today we tend to remember it as,” he adds. “I think that’s because we have the benefit of living in the aftermath of the success.”

“First Man” debuted this week at the Venice Film Festival where it was promptly hailed a groundbreaking space movie for its visceral, boots-on-the-ground recreation of the high-stakes mission. Variety said it does for the space movie what “Saving Private Ryan” did for the war movie.

The response reconfirms Chazelle’s status as a filmmaking wunderkind who is likely to again have a movie in the center of Oscar season, two years after he so memorably and chaotically exited the 2017 Academy Awards. In “First Man,” Chazelle has stepped up to a bigger budget studio film (the Universal Pictures production cost $70 million) and returned to the early awards season prediction lists.