2015, R, 116 min. Directed by Claudia Llosa. Starring Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy, Mélanie Laurent, William Shimell, Zen McGrath, Winta McGrath, Peter McRobbie, Oona Chaplin.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 26, 2015
So bleak and sad is this film that titling it Aloft might almost be construed as false advertising. The title can’t be construed as ironic either because there’s nothing resembling humor in this solemnly earnest drama. Although it often intrigues, that’s mostly because the film’s unconventional narrative structure continually jumps back and forth 20 years in time, forcing us to fill in the intervening gaps with our own conclusions. The effect is not so much confusing as it is baffling. Aloft’s characters exude a certain impregnability, and the story’s structure only further distances us from them.
Writer/director Claudia Llosa, a former Oscar nominee (The Milk of Sorrow) from Peru, offers us a film that’s nearly as chilly and austere as its subarctic setting. Jennifer Connelly plays Nana, who, in the story set in the past, lives with her two young boys and her father-in-law in some unspecified remote area of the frozen north, presumably Canada. Frosty describes both the landscape and its inhabitants. Nana is a desperate woman: Her youngest boy Gully (Winta McGrath) has an unspecified and fatally untreatable illness, so she has dragged him and his older brother Ivan (Zen McGrath) to a gathering of an itinerant spiritual healer called the Architect (Shimell). Ivan, a budding falconer, brings along the bird, which proves to be an unwelcome pilgrim. Soon after, Nana learns she, too, possesses the gift of healing, but before long, tragedy strikes. Approximately 20 years later, Ivan grows up to be a professional falconer (Murphy) who seems like one of the saddest and loneliest men in his corner of the frozen outback, despite the presence of his wife and child. Jannia Ressmore (Laurent), a journalist (whose French-accented English is not always clearly understood), appears at his door purporting to be working on a story about falconry, but her motivations are ulterior. Ressmore, Ivan, and a caged falcon are soon heading further north to find Ivan’s long-absent mother who has become a mystical healer heavily insulated from the world by her inner circle.
The film’s shifting time periods add a complexity to the story that might be easily mistaken for depth. These characters are all souls at the end of their tethers, and their sadness is enhanced by the film’s narrative events, inhospitable landscape, and the filmmaker’s flat, close-up visual strategies that prevent us from embracing these cheerless creatures. All seek answers that are beyond their comprehension. It’s as if Llosa wants us to walk in their shoes, but neglected to provide a destination.