By the time the credits came up, the entire auditorium had been moved to tears. The two men in front of me hid behind their hands, the woman next to me sniffled and I desperately wiped any evidence from my face before the lights came up. For Peruvian filmmaker Claudia Llosa, whose new film Aloft just had its New York premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, emotions are nothing to be ashamed of. “On the contrary, it’s a privilege to feel,” she says. “Why do we fear that? Why is only laughter good? It’s as though we don’t want to accept something that is inherent in life, which is pain; pain is what gives happiness so much intensity and is at the root of human solidarity.”
“…Pain is what gives happiness so much intensity and is at the root of human solidarity.”
In Aloft, Nana (Jennifer Connelly) abandons her son after a tragedy rips their family apart. She disappears into the Canadian tundra to become an artist and a healer. Years later she is sought after by a documentary filmmaker (Mélanie Laurent) who brings Nana’s once forsaken son (Cillian Murphy) in tow. Unlike Llosa’s previous films, Aloft is entirely in English and delves into issues of loss and forgiveness through a primarily Western lens, though Llosa would attest these topics are pervasive and ever-evolving, “Thinking that forgiveness means erasure is to not understand the process,” she says.
Llosa’s previous film, La teta asustata (or The Milk of Sorrow) won the Golden Bear at the 2009 Berlinale and was in some ways thematically a prequel to Aloft. Whereas La teta asustada dealt specifically with memory, Aloft speaks to the arduous course of reconciliation. Both of these approaches being born out of Llosa’s thoughts, studies, and observations on the Peruvian internal conflict of the past thirty years. “Forgiveness is a constant,” she says, “and to explore this concept through cinema fascinates me, because through it, we allow ourselves to broaden our perspectives into new horizons in ways that we can’t in everyday life.”
“I keep a pad full of ideas, where I just put everything that pops into my head… while I’m on the metro, while I’m peeing, whenever.”
With big blue eyes that verify how intently you’re being listened to, Llosa laughed heartily as I confused the title of her film to La leche asustada. “Totally!” she smiled. She refers to herself as a very curious person and will often draw not from her own experiences but from abstract concepts or ideas to shape her stories. She pulls at these notions, almost like putty, until they become a script. She stops a moment to think and then says, “For me, creative work is based on empathy and not so much auto-emulation. It’s about connecting, remaining open. It’s about allowing life to flow through me.”
As she begins work on her next film, Llosa finds herself reading more so than writing; she’s doing research. “I’m filling up the jar,” she calls it. “I keep a pad full of ideas, where I just put everything that pops into my head. And this happens while I’m on the metro, while I’m peeing, whenever.” She differentiates this stage from the more strenuous task that comes later: writing. “There, creativity appears but it’s more labor intensive,” she says, “You wake up, do something sporty, catch your breath and then sit and write.” She recommends drinking as many fluids as possible, “So that you can keep your energy flowing.”
Aloft is a powerful film, whose characters prompt audiences to think about what they would have done had they been in the same position, encouraging less criticism and more sympathy. Beautifully shot with intensely poignant dramatic performances, Aloft is set for a limited theatrical release starting May 22, 2015 in New York and Los Angeles.