Claudia Llosa’s first feature since the Oscar-nominated Milk of Sorrow, Aloft is as remote as its Arctic setting. Jennifer Connelly is in constant crisis mode as a single mother to two boys, one terminally ill and the other traumatized by the death of his falcon; after a shamanic prologue sets up the vagueness to come, Aloft jumps forward twenty years, by which time the avian aficionado has grown into an especially world-weary Cillian Murphy.
The family’s tough-to-follow saga is one of abandonment and reunion, with Llosa showing both to be equally taxing in their own ways. The freewheeling camera often stays close on the small cast, which also includes Mélanie Laurent and Oona Chaplin, roving around cramped quarters as it threatens to go out of focus — a soft, not-quite-blurry look that manages to suggest both intimacy and distance.
Ambitious aesthetics aren’t matched by Llosa’s overly opaque approach; what’s meant to seem artfully understated most often results in confusion over basic details.
It takes so much time to grasp the what, when, and where of Aloft that there’s little left to reflect on (or, at times, even identify) the why, which is clearly what most preoccupies Llosa. The writer-director’s ideas about our connection to the land and the many other animals roaming it may well be profound, but they’re buried under layers of superfluous storytelling devices. A better title would have been Adrift.