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film review

An image from director Alison McAlpine's documentary Cielo.

  • Cielo
  • Directed by Alison McAlpine
  • Starring Mercedes López-Morales, Néstor Espinoza, Jorge Rojas, Roberto Garcia
  • Classification G 
  • 78 minutes


3 out of 4 stars

Summer blockbusters tend to be noisy, anxiety-ridden, chaotic and nonsensical. Escapism, the critics say.

Escapism? Isn’t the world’s noise, chaos, anxiety and nonsense what we’re trying to escape? Which brings us to Cielo, a serene, existential experience from the Canadian filmmaker Alison McAlpine, who takes to Chile’s Atacama Desert to look both skyward and inward.

Planet-hunting astrophysicists and algae-collecting desert dwellers are encountered. From the night sky, they hear a murmur, a whisper, a song – the stars are “conversing.” Age-old questions are revisited as the documentary considers the “immensity of possibilities" and the scientific explanation for the wanderings of our minds. A spiritual chase scene, it could be called.

McAlpine’s work is subtle and sublime; its queries more like answers. Minds are intoxicated on the night sky, and yet the interview subjects are beautifully at peace and firmly grounded. Escape is at hand and believable when there are no boundaries in sight.