Bleak and painfully earnest, Aloft is a story with a mystical bent and an important parenting tip: If you’re going to leave your children alone in a pickup while you’re off in the woods overseeing a healing ritual, don’t leave the key in the ignition.
A gloomy feature by Peruvian director Claudia Llosa (2010’s Oscar-nominated The Milk of Sorrow), Aloft time-travels between a late-20th-century landscape where everybody looks impoverished and scared, and a here-and-now where everyone looks, well, not that much improved.
Back in the there-and-then, Jennifer Connelly’s Nana Ephron has an 11-year-old boy, Ivan (Zen McGrath), who loves and trains a falcon. A younger son, Gully (Winta McGrath), is ailing, and the three of them line up in a wintry wasteland to see whether they will be chosen (by lottery, with pebbles wrapped in leaves) to be seen by “the Architect.” This faith healer also goes by the name Newman; William Shimell plays him with a cynicism that belies the character’s otherworldly skills. Inside a structure made of branches and twigs (think naturalist artist Andy Goldsworthy), the Architect lays his hands on the lame, the cancerous, the infirm.
But something happens to his structure, and something happens when Nana intercedes. It’s apparent that she, too, has the power to heal.
Jump ahead 20 years, and Cillian Murphy is Ivan. He is renowned for his work with “hybrid falcons.” He is also deeply bitter about Nana, who abandoned him so long ago. When a documentarian, Jannia (Melanie Laurent), shows up with her camera and her questions about his estranged mother, Ivan and this woman embark on a journey toward the Arctic Circle. Nana, who has become famous as an artist and a faith healer, is based there.
Might a reunion – full of anguish and accusation – be in the offing?
Connelly with beautiful eyes like pools of woe, Murphy with jittery sadness, and Laurent with dreamy stares and a pair of riveting moles on her clavicle, make a formidable cast. But Llosa’s story, elliptical and grim, cloaks them like a shroud – or like the little hoods slipped over the heads of the falcons in Ivan’s care.
Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy, Melanie Laurent, William Shimell.
Writer-director: Claudia Llosa.
A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 112 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual content. In Miami-Dade: South Beach; in Broward: Gateway; in Palm Beach: Living Room, Shadowood.