Aloft, written and directed by Peruvian filmmaker Claudia Lhosa, is a bit of a mess for the first part of the film because we get no back-story and see characters behaving incomprehensibly. About half- to two-thirds of the way in when we have more history, the characters and their behavior make more sense. I’ll give you some of that background—without spoilers—because I think the movie is at fault for leaving the viewer mystified for so long.
Nana (Connelly), the main character is a healer who has had some success, but finds it important to keep her identity as such a secret from the public, partly because otherwise she would be deluged but partly because she doesn’t really want to take credit. She has two sons, Ivan (Murphy) and Gully (Winta McGrath) who has been diagnosed with a life-threatening tumor. Ivan is a falconer like his grandfather, and finds it important to take the bird with him wherever he goes. Because of tragic events in his life, Ivan as a grown man is eccentric and hot-tempered, is married with a child, and falconry is his profession. The film jumps back and forth in time, which creates more disorientation.
Another confusing aspect of the film is that the actor in the role of Ivan’s wife looks so much like Connelly, so it’s not always clear who the characters are. Sometimes scenes are included that appear to be extraneous, such as Nana’s affair and a falcon getting shot. Perhaps they have symbolic meanings, but if so, I missed it.
At any rate, in his adult life, Ivan is approached by reporter Jannia (Laurent), working on a documentary on falcons and requests an interview with him. When she begins to ask him questions, however, he realizes she has another agenda and he bolts from the room in anger. As is typical of him, he has second thoughts, and gets back in touch with her, does interviews about falcons, and they make a short journey together.
All the action takes place in the Arctic and in Canada where the picture was filmed (Manitoba), and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc (Enemy) takes full advantage of high winds, blanketed snow, and ice-covered lakes for dramatic effect in underscoring the emotional scenes and experiences of the characters. Panoramas of the landscape are chillingly beautiful.
Especially in the last half of the story, Connelly (many awards for performance in A Beautiful Mind) shows again that she knows her craft and she and Murphy (a frequently nominated Irish actor) reflect very well their mother/son conflicts. Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), a French actress likewise popular on the award circuit, provides refreshing relief from the other two characters’ neuroses and dilemmas.
Aloft is a quiet, thoughtful film that will not appeal to everyone; the viewer needs to enjoy and feel comfortable thinking about the dialog and understanding the characters. It does bring up the issue of healing practices outside the medical profession as well as emotional healing, which I found interesting, along with parenting in a family with a life-threatening illness. The picture it shows of families with a seriously ill child, the desperation they feel and the tendency to ignore the siblings, is entirely realistic. Something rather disconcerting, perhaps, is that this mother leaves her young children alone far more often than we Americans do, especially those of today.
Quiet and thoughtful in exploring the issue of healing.
Grade: C By Donna R. Copeland