FILM REVIEW: CIELO (Canada/Chile 2018) ***

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Cielo Poster


CILEO which is Spanish for Sky or Heaven is writer/director Alison McAlpine’s ode to Cielo.  It is a journey of the appreciation for both the silence and the beauty of the skies.  The awesome cinematography by Benjamin Echazarreta and poetic musings by McAlpine herself offer audiences an escape into nature in tis purest form.

The film begins with two scientists discussing freely and humorously their experiences of just staring at the skies above.  They tease each other, laugh and speak of their ideologies.  One might not agree 100% with what they say, but each person has his or her valued viewpoint.

To understand what is seen on screen, one must know a bit of the method and technology used in photographing the skies.  Used were time-lapse cameras (the Sony A7 and Atomos Shogun by night, the Sony FS7 by day) to create at the visual symphony of the moon, stars, sun and clouds as they move through the wild blue yonder as seen on screen.

CIELO is a quiet film that often requires the audience to remain silent during the performance, quite like A QUIET PLACE.  It would be good for audiences to experience silence and a quieter type of cinema, away from the loud and more is better mentality of action films like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT and horror films like A QUIET PLACE.

The skies above the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile alternately achieves and strains for poetry.  There are numerous images of transcendent beauty in Cielo, which is a Canadian Chilean co-production..   A good portion of its running time contemplating the firmament above Northern Chile’s Atacama Desert and it feels what it must be like to actually stand in Atacama, gazing up in awe.   Amazing are the numerous shooting stars flying by like paint slashes on a cosmic canvas.  The vapour trail from a plane acts as the sole cloud in an otherwise clear azure sky.  Even the Milky Way self rotates through the heavens with breathtaking clarity.

CIELO is not without the human element.  People that McAlpine have selected for her film include astronomers who work in Atacama, as well as cowboys, miners and algae collectors who live and depend on the desert.  What they say reveals that way of life and their simplicity of ways.  They contemplate about life and the stars.  Often these might seem simplistic, especially for audiences in the busy finical world.

One wishes McAlpine shot more of the Atacama Desert though it might distract from the main issue.  McAlpine’s film contains some of the most arresting images seen in a film this year.  The best is the one with the sky’s reflection in a lake with mountains in the background.  No wonder one of the desert inhabitants dance to the sky in one exhilarating scene.

Also beautiful are the structures of several observatories seen on screen.  What is missing in CIELO however, is the scientific element to complement the artistic poetry.  The film would be more whole if something is explained on what the observatories achieve as well as some astronomical explanation of the being of the universe and its stars.

CIELO provides a different kind of movie, lots of visuals with little but poetic dialogue.  The film is shot in both Spanish and English.


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