“Aloft” is a melancholy, cryptic drama that guards its secrets as if they’re the answer to some ancient riddle about the human condition.
And they’re not.
Peruvian writer-director Claudia Llosa (“The Milk of Sorrow”) landed a top flight cast, and gives this Canadian co-production an air of mystery and the feel of a glum sci-fi dystopia.
But the mystery isn’t that mysterious, and the fiction here is more mundane than scientific or fantastical.
Under perpetually grey skies, Jennifer Connelly plays Nana, an impoverished single mom taking her two little boys on a pilgrimage into the Canadian wilderness. One of the boys, the willful and stubborn Ivan (Zen McGrath) has his pet falcon with him.
They’ve joined others hitchhiking their way into the woods where, under a big Indian hogan made of twigs, sticks and vines, “The Architect Newman” (William Shimell) promises healing. Nana’s other son (Winta McGrath) is very sick.
Something happens that breaks the spirit of the day and dashes the hopes of the legions of poor and desperate parents grasping at the shaman’s straws. The Architect then suggests Nana is the true healer.
The story flashes forward 20 years as a reporter (Melanie Laurent of “Now You See Me” and “Beginners”) shows up to interview the adult Ivan (Cillian Murphy). She said she was interested in his “hybrid falcons.” What she really wants to know is where his mother is.
Llosa skips back and forth between the present quest to find Nana in the frozen north and the past events – tragic and mystical – that sent her off the grid.
Murphy is properly bitter as the adult son of a woman who “abandoned” him. Laurent maintains an air of mystery even as her true motives become clear. The Oscar-winning Connelly plays a quiet desperation and world weariness, and never seems truly out of place in this world – until the movie reveals how much of a tease it is.
What are these kids suffering from, some Future Plague? Why are these poor and good looking Canadians, with one of the world’s great health care systems, seeking the help of a shaman? And who IS this hustler/healer?
“You can’t avoid pain by resisting it,” The Architect pretentiously intones.
Llosa ably blends the past with the film’s present, but dawdles as she does. And in doling out information so sparingly, she gives the viewer the same false hopes that are common currency in the shaman trade. We’re hoping something profound or at least futuristic happens. It doesn’t.
The falcon metaphor is clumsy and ill-defined, and “Aloft” is never much more than a lovely, dull cheat.
☆ 1/2 Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy, Melanie Laurent, Oona Chaplin, William Shimell
Director: Claudia Llosa
Length: 112 minutes
Rating: R (language and some sexuality)