Cielo (Alison McAlpine, 2017)


The images in Alison McAlpine’s Cielo are the primary draw and are probably themselves worth the price of admission. Not just the starscapes, captured in the pristine thin air of the Atacama desert, gorgeous sweeping vistas of galaxies and nebulae, planets and stars, shot in crisp digital images, time-lapsed over sunsets and dawns, but the images of the land as well: a slo-motion cloud of dust, a man descending into a hole in the earth, his sky several tons of rock, his only light a single bulb worn loosely around his neck. McAlpine breathlessly muses upon the meaning of the sky, the stars, and she interviews many of the denizens of the desert, all of whom have their unique relationship to the world above. Planet hunters, astronomers who use machines and high-tech imaging to scour the universe for other worlds, are contrasted with more ancient occupations: shepherds and storytellers, and the aforementioned miner, who writes poetry in his spare time.

The transitions are deftly made, and slowly the film’s main idea comes into focus: that of the interconnection between sky and land, mirroring the fluidity of past and future. The night sky is both. Light from stars that traveled through the void for hundreds, thousands, millions of years only to become visible to us in the present, representing our hopes for a future, which are then reflected back into the sky. The machines of the scientists, overwhelming, massive constructions that distort the space around them, McAlpine films in the style of the Sensory Ethnography Lab, or something like Mauro Herce’s Dead Slow Ahead, imposing impositions upon the natural world. The locals though are filmed in the desert itself, in run-down shacks, rickety tents, or the open air itself. The film comes dangerously close to ethnographic condescension in some of these scenes, with a poor couple and a UFO hunter. But the miner/poet is charming and the film’s ultimate star is the folklorist who recites old stories, examines petroglyphs, and comes closest to unifying the film’s disparate elements.

One thing McApline does not cover is what became the ultimate subject of Patricio Guzmán’s 2010 film Nostalgia for the Light: the fact that the Atacama, while an ideal site for star-gazing, is also home to countless bodies of people disappeared and murdered under Chile’s military dictatorship. It was probably wise to avoid repeating Guzmán, of course, but the total absence of the subject from Cielo is unusual. In focusing so much on the people who actually live and work in the desert, she seems to be prioritizing the specificity of this single place. But in cutting it off from one of the most tragic and telling passages in its history, she leaves a black hole. The desert becomes a no-place, a mere place-holder for a general concept of “land” and its subjects in turn merely “people”, relevant only for their relation to an impassive, distant, omnivorous sky.

Friday August 31 – Thursday September 6

Featured Film:

Support the Girls at the Grand Illusion

Crystal Moselle’s fine Skate Kitchen opens this week at the Meridian and the Uptown, but I’m sticking with Support the Girls as our Featured Film because not only is it one of the very best films of the year (and the best American film I’ve seen so far in 2018), but because it’s Labor Day weekend and no film currently on Seattle Screens is more appropriate. Regina Hall plays the manager of a Hooters-like sports bar and restaurant in freeway sprawl Texas, and the film follows a day, a night, and a dawn in her life as she juggles staff new and old, a depressed husband, obnoxious customers, and a worthless boss. Few films have captured customer service management with such depth of feeling and nuance, with marvelous performances (from Hall and Haley Lu Richardson in particular, but also James LeGros as the physical embodiment of slimy capital) and assured direction from the former shining light of mumblecore.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

The Dark Crystal (Jim Henson & Frank Oz, 1982) Fri-Tues
Legend (Ridley Scott, 1985) Fri-Tues Hecklevision Tuesday

Century Federal Way:

Mar Gaye Oye Loko (Simerjit Singh) Fri-Thurs

Grand Cinema:

Woman Walks Ahead (Susanna White) Fri-Thurs
Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub) Fri-Thurs
Summer of ’84 (François Simard, Anouk Whissell & Yoann-Karl Whissell) Sat Only
En el séptimo día (Jim McKay) Tues Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski) Fri-MOn, Weds
Terminator 2L Judgement Day (James Cameron, 1991) Sat, Sun & Thurs Only 35mm
The Long Kiss Goodnight (Renny Harlin, 1996) Fri, Sun, Mon & Weds Only 35mm

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Stree (Amar Kaushik) Fri-Thurs
Geetha Govindam (Parasuram) Fri-Thurs
Imaikkaa Nodigal (R. Ajay Gnanamuthu) Fri Only
Narthanasala (Srinivas Chakravarthi) Fri-Thurs
60 Vayadu Maaniram (Radha Mohan) Fri-Thurs

Regal Meridian:

Skate Kitchen (Crystal Moselle) Fri-Thurs
Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon, 1997) Thurs Only

Northwest Film Forum:

Cielo (Alison McAlpine) Fri-Sun Our Review
Love, Cecil (Lisa Immordino Vreeland) Fri-Sun, Tues-Thurs
Investigation of a Flame and El pueblo se levanta (Lynne Sachs, 2003 and Third World Newsreel Film Collective, 1971) Sat Only
MEX AM NW – Animated Shorts for Youth Sun Only
Oulaya’s Wedding (Hisham Mayet, Cyrus Moussavi & Brittany Nugent) Weds Only Directors in Attendance
Betty: They Say I’m Different (Phil Cox) Starts Thurs

AMC Oak Tree:

Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub) Fri-Thurs

AMC Pacific Place:

Big Brother (Kam Ka-wai) Fri-Thurs Our Review
L Storm (David Lam) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Ya veremos (Pedro Pablo Ibarra) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

The Bookshop (Isabel Coixet) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

1 Reel Film Festival Fri-Sun
The Third Murder (Kore-eda Hirokazu) Tues-Thurs

Regal Thornton Place:

Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon, 1997) Thurs Only

SIFF Uptown:

The Bookshop (Isabel Coixet) Fri-Thurs
Skate Kitchen (Crystal Moselle) Fri-Thurs
Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub) Fri-Thurs

Varsity Theatre:

Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub) Fri-Thurs

In Wide Release:

Mission: Impossible–Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie) Our Review
Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham) Our Review
Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed) Our Review
Ocean’s 8 (Gary Ross) Our Review
Solo (Ron Howard) Our Review