Movie review: Aloft is a New Age head-scratcher

A woman seeks spiritual healing, a boy who trains falcons seeks his mother, and viewers seek some kind of meaning in Canadian drama

Aloft

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy

Directed by: Claudia Llosa

Rating: 2 stars out of 5

(In English and some French with English subtitles)

By Jay Stone

The grey, pensive, and snowbound feature Aloft starts with a scene of a farmworker named Nana (Jennifer Connelly) helping a sow give birth to a piglet. Inspired, perhaps, she is then shown having sex with a co-worker while leaning against the wall of the barn.

This actually has nothing at all to do with Aloft, as far as I can tell, but it helps set the enigmatic, somewhat earthy tone of this first English-language feature from Peruvian director Claudia Llosa (The Milk of Sorrow). Filmed in Manitoba, it is a sad and dreamy drama with many New Age touches and a fondness for lingering over barren tundra that stands as a metaphor for its sense of loss. I think of it as Snow Falling On Provincial Funding Models.

The story really begins when Nana takes her sick son Ivan (Zen McGrath) to visit a faith healer named The Architect (William Shimell), who does his work in a delicate structure of twigs and branches. Unfortunately, Ivan’s pet falcon — another of the movie’s enigmas — destroys the twig house. The good news is that Nana may have healing powers herself, although it’s hard to know whether this is meant seriously or is another metaphor: Llosa fills the screen with close-ups of strained faces that hint that perhaps several of the principals are delusional.

Aloft continues with a second story that is happening years later, although this takes some time to digest. Ivan has now grown up to be Cillian Murphy, a famous falconer (talk about your oxymorons.) One day he is visited by Reesmore (Melanie Laurent), a French filmmaker interested in doing a documentary on hybrid falcons, an unlikely-sounding project nonetheless that couldn’t possibly be any slower than Aloft. Together they travel into the Arctic to uncover whatever it is the movie is trying to say.

The nice part is that cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc films the endless blue cold with a real sense of hopelessness, and that Murphy is excellent with both the young boy who plays his son and with the trained falcons. I’m still not sure what the birds are doing in the picture, unless they’re metaphors for . . . . oh, I don’t know, perhaps a dangerous nature that can be trained but never truly tamed. We can also guess that “The Architect” is probably God and Nana is, I suppose, mankind making its own way in an existential world. It’s something to talk about later, if you last that long.

 

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