Friday, August 17, 2018

Art, astronomy and even some anthropology blend in Alison McAlpine's heavenly CIELO

What a lovely and impressive mix we have here! Filmmaker Alison McAlpine has given us something unusual, beautiful and even revelatory in her new documentary, CIELO -- the word which, in Spanish, can signify either heaven or simply the sky. Chile's Atacama Desert has been used effectively in a number of documentary and narrative films, most impressively, I think, in Patricio Guzmán's Nostalgia for the Light, in which Guzmán showed us this singular location as both a haven and laboratory for astronomers and a hiding place for the remains of many of those "disappeared" under the cruel, murderous dictatorship of Chile's Augusto Pinochet.

Ms McAlpine, shown at left, does not go into Pinochet's use of this locale but sticks to astronomy, as well as anthropology, as she offers us a look at some of the folk who live and work in the desert and who prove to be every bit as interesting and worth seeing as that fabled desert and its amazing night sky (shown above and below).

These would include those astronomers, both French- and Spanish-speaking, and the local natives, some of whom who gather up kelp from the sea for their livelihood.

The filmmaker's narration is in English, but most of the rest of the dialog (from the astronomers and the native workers) is in either Spanish or French. The astronomers in particular are quite funny and charming, and their interaction is mostly delightful and occasionally profound.

We also meet an older couple of who live in the desert, and they, too, are delightful, especially when she must explain to her husband how the earth moves, along with the concept of gravity. Another younger man, above, tells us, as he prepares a meal, of his experiences in the desert, including an apparition of a young girl that appeared to him numerous times. An angel, he wonders?

Another fine fellow (above and below) dances and flies along merrily; later we see him teaching the local kids fables and myths: how a dog might help his master in the afterlife. Living in the Atacama must make one a bit crazy, at least by what most of us would consider "normal" standards. But there is no denying the joy found here. The movie is full of marvelous anthropology that seems to TrustMovies as strong as that of its astronomy.

We view some fascinating cave/rock drawings, learn about the discovery (by the Swiss) of a new planet called WASP 50, and sit in with another group of astronomers as they laugh and chat. Our filmmaker finally asks them a question: What is your true connection with the sky? The response:
"The sky nourishes us. In the sky, our imagination takes flight -- and anything is possible."

There are many questions here, but few definitive answers. No matter. For those who want to ponder ideas on life, death, connection and the universe, Cielo may be the movie for you. A Juno Films release running just 77 minutes, the film opened this past Wednesday, August 15 for only a one-week run in New York City at Film Forum, and will hit Los Angeles at Laemmle's Ahrya Fine Arts on Friday, August 24. To view other currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and scroll down.

No comments: