The Guardian Australia

Cielo review – love letter to the desert’s starry skies

- Cath Clarke

Cielo means “sky” in Spanish, and “heaven”, too. And it’s with a sense of humbled wonder at the immense mystery of it all that the Canadian film-maker Alison McAlpine casts her camera upwards in this beautiful documentar­y about the night sky. It’s filmed at the stargazing hotspot of Chile’s Atacama desert, where there is virtually no light pollution; the heavens appear to be within touching distance – as if a seam in the sky has been unpicked and the stars tumble out like diamonds.

For those of us who live in urban areas, we look up from noisy streets and bright city lights to the vast emptiness of the sky. In Atacama, it’s the reverse; the sky seems more alive than the earth – a bare, Martian landscape of rock and sand. With her cinematogr­apher, Benjamín Echazarret­a, McAlpine shoots some astonishin­g time-lapse photograph­y, which features alongside interviews with astronomer­s at the European observator­ies in the desert and locals who eke out a living somehow. One man is a UFO photograph­er; he thinks that humans are more evil than the aliens and, knowing this, the aliens don’t bother to land.

This is a mellow, meandering film and, personally, I would have found a couple of explainers and captions to introduce the stargazers useful. The interviews with the astronomer­s are terrific; one of them explains that she’s not spiritual, and when she looks into the sky it’s the Earth she’s thinking about, how insignific­ant we humans are, how tiny in the universe, like ants. A local man movingly explains how his daughter, before she died, pointed to one of Orion’s stars and told him to remember her by it. On the other hand, the score of wind instrument­s and blippy electronic noises gives it a generic cine-essay feel, and McAlpine’s voiceover of poetic musings doesn’t help. At times this does feel like a bit of an unwitting test of the audience’s attention span.

• Cielo is available on 23 April on True Story.

 ??  ?? A sky more alive than the Earth … Cielo.
A sky more alive than the Earth … Cielo.

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