Aloft is the story of a mother and son, respectively named Nana and Ivan Kunning (respectively played by Jennifer Connolly and Cillian Murphy). The film takes place in two parts. The first is part takes place when Ivan is a child, as he and Nana and Ivan’s little brother struggle to get by in a hardscrabble town somewhere in Canada. Ivan’s brother is sick, but Nana can’t afford to pay for the medicine to treat him. So instead, she desperately turns to faith healing, while Ivan deals with the situation by learning the art of falconry. The second part of the film takes place 20 years later, long after Ivan was abandoned by his mother, who has since become a sort of cult leader/artist. A French filmmaker (Mélanie Laurent) is intent on making a documentary on her, but doesn’t know where to find her. She tracks down Ivan, hoping he can lead her to Nana’s hideaway in the vastness of the Canadian arctic. The story is slowly revealed as the film flips between the two time periods.
Like I said, this is a film that I really wanted to like. The film has a very strong art house vibe to it which elevates atmosphere and visuals to greater importance than traditional plot and characterization. The film’s director, Claudia Llosa, has a strong independent pedigree; her film La Teta Asustada (The Milk of Sorrow), won the 2009 Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and earned a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards. The cinematography is beautiful, is barren and desolate, prominently featuring the forests and tundra of northern Canada during winter; it has the same sort of rural neo-noir feel present in Winter’s Bone. The actors all give good, if not stunning, performances; dialogue is often minimal, and downplayed as regards to the visual aspects of the film.
The problem is that the film, when you get right down to it, is kinda boring. The movie is about the relationship between a mother and son, but in order to be effective a film with that type of plot has to make the audience feel for its characters, which Aloft is unable to. The characters do not feel like real people, and you can never accept them as anything accept people on a movie screen. Plus, the plot is really melodramatic in a way; the film uses the art house style to make you think that its trying to say something deep and meaningful about human relationships. But rather than being deep and meaningful, the film just comes off as shallow, with a message that feels painfully obvious.
In the end, Aloft is a bit like a pressed flower in an old book. Sure it’s beautiful, but its also completely sterile and lifeless. Honestly, there are better films to spend your money on at the theatre this weekend.