“Aloft” – a film review by Gary Chew
Aloft (from 2014) contains a smidgen of sub-titled French dialogue, but it’s English that’s spoken most. This mishmash of language may possibly be a bit confusing for you, but just wait till you see the film.
Claudia Llosa, who wrote and directed Aloft, was born in Lima and later moved to Madrid. After seeing her film, I felt at a loss as to what the picture is about. Then I read a synopsis of it. That was helpful. I suggest you do the same before going to see Jennifer Connelly in the lead of a visually stimulating film that boasts excellent and quite dramatic performances — but only a modicum of clarity.
Llosa has a good handle on making movies, I’d say, but not so much writing scripts for them. If a film hasn’t come to a certain coagulation of meaning in terms of what the hell’s going on by the first half hour or so, I start feeling like I might have missed my nap.
Evidently, there’s a good synopsis writer at Sony Pictures Classics. It’s to that person I say thanks for helping me to give you better information about Aloft. The problem, though, is that if I give too much clarity about what’s going on, mainly for the first half hour or so, it’s a spoiler for stuff that comes later.
I would lay this issue at the feet of Llosa. Her script, which is set in contemporary times, should have better defined the trek to be taken for her characters; then placing the scenario into a communicative construct, even at the risk of jeopardizing Llosa’s apparent need to be subtle or maybe profound. Let me suggest this gist for the narrative: Jennifer Connelly’s character is sort of a mystical artist and, I guess, rural healer of sorts. She isn’t a superfundy kind of healer but still quite determined and devoted to her children, it would seem. An accident has damaged the past for one of her sons.
At the close of the first act, “Twenty years later” flashes briefly. That leads to sequencing even more convoluted: still not plain about what’s going on; the son peculiarly a falconer. (I guess that’s why the English title is Aloft.) There is a breathtaking shot of a flying falcon coming to rest on the gloved hand of a child (No CGI). Moreover, a few brief scenes have young children acting in ways that are quite morose and sad. Those tears have to be real coming from the eyes of children this age. I think the kid actors really were upset as the camera rolled. Method acting comes earlier than it used to, apparently.
Two adult actors have good, well-played parts: Cillian Murphy and Mélanie Laurent. It’s Laurent’s role as a journalist that breeds strong conflict among the players as she strives to know more about the artist/healer/mother character. Some scenes with the excellent Connelly show evidence of fine makeup people having been brought on board for this production.
It was winter shoot in Manitoba which gives all of it the look of occurring somewhere within the Arctic Circle. Yes, nothing’s warm about Aloft. But if bleak is your thing, this one’s for you. Some filming also was done in Madrid, but there’s nothing suggesting characters are ever in Spain or, for that matter, anyplace at all; I guessed Canada as I watched.
There are few grins in Aloft, no humor; and saying it might be guilty of taking itself much too seriously can’t be ruled out. Since Aloft was shot in such unrelenting frigidity, with real cold weather breathing exiting the actors’ nostrils, I couldn’t help thinking about Ingmar Bergman’s work. But his films were never so oblique or covert in revealing their purpose.