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Back in my head-trippy days I would often wonder, if I were religious, to what religion would I belong? I guess I spent some time taking a tiny bit from Buddhism and a lot from Rastafarianism, (if you know what I mean) but mostly acted under the rules of, well, nothing. But, I would frequently tell people that were I to form my own religion, it would definitely have at its source the sky. (Anachronistic, I know.) But is it anachronistic? Alison McAlpine's rapturous documentary Cielo might change your mind.
Not that Cielo is a religious documentary at all, that was just my personal ‘in' to understand this movie, gorgeous, stately, and down-to-earth. The movie involves Chilean folks in and around the Atacama Desert, a really great place to observe the night sky. The 78 minute film connects with astronomers and those who scratch out a living on the desert floor. These supporting players discuss their relationship with the sky, at times seeming to have swapped philosophies, with those subsisting in the desert expressing a frank attitude about the heavens, based on scientific knowledge, while the astronomers get philosophical.
McAlpine crafts the type of movie with a capital M that has about zero market share, as viewers have mostly sacrificed the mental wherewithal needed to enjoy and understand such efforts. This isn't a movie that presents much of an agenda (although it clearly has intent). It's not a movie to tell you what to think, nor is it a movie presented as a simple entertainment, or one during which you might ‘shut your brain off' while viewing. McAlpine's Cielo is a movie for you to approach with zero expectations, one to watch just to see where it takes you.
As such, it's stunningly beautiful and affecting; lush time-lapse sky photography presents the stars in their best light, interview segments deliver their subjects through keen, simple observation. McAlpine maybe is merely taking the time to point out that which we've forgotten; that overarching concept of our place under the massive dome of the heavens. For viewers who admire Godfrey Reggio and Terrence Malick, Cielo is Highly Recommended (as it is for anyone, really). Approach it with your mind open like the sky.
Cielo hovers on your screen in a 1.33:1 ratio that doesn't present images in the enveloping aspect ratio you might hope for, but it's still beautiful in this standard definition transfer that handles the numerous dark scenes with good fidelity, and few compression problems. Details are DVD-standard, and colors are mostly warm and naturalistic.
PCM 2.0 Stereo Audio and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio both do fine with the subject at hand, which is not exactly dialog heavy, (and for that matter is subtitled in English for non-Spanish-speakers) but does have a nicely evocative, somewhat-unobtrusive score that's mixed well and has a nice dynamic range.
Extras are limited to English Subtitles.
Alison McAlpine's art-house documentary Cielo is stunningly beautiful and affecting; lush time-lapse sky photography presents the stars in their best light, interview segments with Chilean astronomers and subsistence farmers deliver their subjects through keen, simple observation. McAlpine maybe uses her powerful movie to merely point out that which we've forgotten; that overarching concept of our place under the massive dome of the heavens. For viewers who admire Godfrey Reggio and Terrence Malick, Cielo is Highly Recommended
- Kurt Dahlke