Sunday, September 21, 2008

New Film: The Sky, The Earth, and the Rain

There is much to admire in José Luis Torres Leiva's The Sky, the Earth, and the Rain / El Cielo, la tierra, y la lluvia: the film's haptic Chilean landscapes, its textured aural compliments, a precise feeling for the region's unceasing winter precipitation and its metaphoric relation of class with the aforesaid deluge. Indeed, few examples of recent world cinema can claim to match The Sky, the Earth, and the Rain's tactile expression of environment, and of the human body's comfortless occupation of its spaces, perpetually soaked by Southern Chile's downpours and by the standing water through which these underclass protagonists cross (or in one case, by the Pacific waters after two of the film's heroines save a third from the powerful ocean tides). The wet is inescapable for the film's working poor, as is the biting, consuming cold that is empathetically imputed to the The Sky...'s spectators. Likewise, the olfactory presents itself in the damp country fields or in the decaying wallpaper framing Ana's (Julieta Figueroa) dying mother. Torres Leiva's picture activates the viewer's full sensorium.

If The Sky, the Earth, and the Rain's achievement is thereby locatable in the details of its mise-en-scène - in the haptic sense of a damp, deteriorating fencepost - and on its animalic soundtrack, weakness is revealed in their narrative combination and in the connotative uncertainty of Torres Leiva's elliptical strategies. This is a film that systematically elides narrative information and dramatic detail, though without a strong sense of the world that is being eliminated. This is to say that it is unclear why Torres Leiva has adopted the poetic tradition that Abbas Kiarostami or later Carlos Reygadas have utilitized to refer to what is left off screen. In fact, following the film's most dramatic revelation (much of course does not get revealed) Ana begins to sob, thereby calling into question whether the surfaces restrict in the same manner as the ellipses. The Sky..., in other words, seems not to present the organic unity of a Kiarostami or Silent Light.

If there are further reasons to be critical - namely the film's cliche-ridden story (a dying mother, its fraught maid-employer relationship, a mentally unstable young woman) or the odd lack of an authorial presence, in spite of its unmissable style - The Sky, the Earth, and the Rain nonetheless suggests real filmmaking promise, grounded in the picture's luminous photography and its real facility to encourage the viewer's tactile participation. Optimally, The Sky... will someday prove to be an immature work.

1 comment:

R. Emmet Sweeney said...

I'm glad you were able to see this. It's quite possible I overrated the film in the midst of all the garbage I was seeing in Rotterdam, but the sensorial aspects you mentioned really overwhelmed me at the time.