Berlinale 2014. Review of “Aloft” by Claudia Llosa

After her second feature film, The Milk of Sorrow, which won the Golden Bear in 2009, Claudia Llosa is back in Berlin with Aloft, a film about faith, closure and forgiveness – and falconry.

Aloft is imbued with Llosa’s very poetic eye for cinematography and her unquestionable capacity to create a haunted, somewhat supernatural mood even out of the most uninteresting events. But the beauty of its wintry landscapes can do very little to distract from what is fundamentally a high-strung and slightly incoherent and clumsy melodrama.

Aloft plays out in two different time periods and tells the story of Nana, a farm worker who raises her two sons, Ivan and Gully, who suffers from a terminal illness. In parallel, we witness the journey of the grown-up Ivan, accompanied by journalist Jannia, traveling across snowy moors to see his mother for the first time in a long time. The reasons for their estrangement are revealed in flashbacks, little by little, as the travellers approach their destination: Nana’s tent compound where, now a famous artist and healer, she practices some sort of medicinal mysticism that Ivan dismisses as charlatanism, but in which Jannia has very personal reasons to believe.

The fact of the matter is that Aloft does not make a whole lot of sense although it ultimately makes us believe that we are really supposed to take it seriously. In that sense, the film feels deliberately perplexing and lacks solid social and geographical context, maybe because Llosa’s purpose is to show a sort of mythic universality. Nicolas Bolduc’s cinematography of exteriors of kilometers of unending snow scenery is splendid while his interiors are too dim, heavy and monotonous. As far as the acting is concerned, Connelly, Murphy and Laurent all deliver highly dedicated performances. Michael Brook’s score is, unfortunately, not particularly noteworthy.

All in all, Aloft, Claudia Llosa’s biggest production so far can be interpreted as a sort of New Age philosophical prattle about closure, guilt, forgiveness, and unresolved “mommy issues” that fails to achieve the spiritual uplift it pretends to offer. Aloft is a meditative, on occasion sublime, but eventually, highly disappointing film that wants to inspire our musings on it to fly loose like one of its falcons but, sadly, fails to do so.

Production: Wanda Visión S.A., Arcadia Motion Pictures, Buffalo Gal Pictures, Manitoba Films AIE, Noodles Production (USA, Spain, France 2014). Executive producers: Ignasi Estapé, Sandra Hermida, Mark Johnson, Miguel Morales and Jérome Vidal. Producers: Ibon Cormenzana, Phyllis Laing and José María Morales. Associate producers: Marina Fuentes Arredonda and Ánge Durández. Line producers: Rhonda Baker and Sandra Hermida. Delegate producer: Sandra Tapia. Director: Claudia Llosa. Screenplay: Claudia Llosa. Photography: Nicolas Bolduc. Music: Michael Brook. Production Design: Eugenio Caballero. Costume designHeather Neale. Editing: Guillermo de la Cal.

Cast: Jennifer Connolly (Nana Kunning), Mélanie Laurent (Jannia Ressmore), Cillian Murphy (Ivan), Oona Chaplin (Alice), Ian Tracey (Hans), Peter McRobbie (Ike), William Shimell (Newman), Zen McGrath (young Ivan), Winta McGrath (Gully)

Color – 112 min. Premiere: 12-II-2014 (Berlin International Film Festival)

This film was reviewed at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. 

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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