The Wilderness of Winnipeg Showcases a World of Talent


Beginning its path to the world at the Berlin Film Festival, where director Claudia Llosa had won a Golden Bear for The Milk of Sorrow, Aloft played both the Sundance Film Festival and New York’s Tribeca Film Festival before its current release into North American theaters.

To say the film is multi-national, or multicultural, is an understatement; the Peruvian director has set the film against the wild white canvas of  Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and brought aboard a cast that includes Oscar-winning New York native Jennifer Connelly, Irishman Cillian Murphy, Spanish-born Oona Chaplin and French ingénue Melanie Laurent.

We caught up with Llosa and Connelly at the AFCI/Beyond Cinema Studio at Park City’s Sundance Film Festival – and, yes, Connelly really is as captivating in person as she appears to be in these images by Scott McDermott.

Beyond Cinema (BC): Congratulations on being back here after almost 10 years.

Claudia Llosa:  Thank you so much.

BC: Has time flown by, or has it gone slowly?

Claudia Llosa: It feels really nice, actually. It was the first festival of my life. Sundance is really special for me, I showed my first film Madeinusa in the world competition. It was freezing.

BC: It’s always a point of conversation when a filmmaker travels outside their native language to work in English. For you, was it a complex or an easy process?

Llosa: They helped me a lot. I didn't felt lost…but it's always complicated. It's not your mother tongue, so you're not so eloquent, you're not so precise as you love to be.

BC: The places in which you set your films are always so effective. They have an impact.

Llosa: Yeah. I don't know. I have this fascination for this kind of marginal landscapes, far away from cities, far away from institutions in a way. How people relate and how they change the characters' lives, in a way.

BC: In one sense, do you feel like you've got freedom to explore different things, because you're not labeling the place, but instead adding characters to a whiteboard?

LLosa: Yeah, in this case, the weather was actually a main character in a way. The camera is always so physically close to the actors that you never show it, [but] it's always surrounding them, you can feel it in the different expressions. You can feel their presence of eyes, of air, of earth in a way. The variety of emotions of a film.  For me it's this confrontation between human and nature in way; how you feel vulnerable and how you reconnect to that fragility...

BC: Jennifer, as an actress, being able to travel all over the world, creating films in different places, what did this particular landscape give you?

Jennifer Connelly: This is its own kind of beauty, a very stark beauty. The vast open expanses of snow and ice, and something kind of lonely and austere about a lot of these locations, that Claudia found, and the forests were really very beautiful.

My character spends a great deal of time in the forest, exploring these structures, and that starts the beginning of this process for her of creating these installations in nature. Those forests were very beautiful.

BC: Do you prefer to be whisked away to be able to concentrate on your craft, away from the daily routine of home, or is doing a film in and around your home, where you can sleep in your own bed, a preference?

Connelly: For me home is my family. They come with me whenever I work, on this one especially my youngest one Agnes was with us the whole time. She's still quite young. I like it all; I like different kinds of experiences. It's always some kind of strange and magical chapter I feel like, no matter where the location is.

Even some place like this, I never thought I would spend that much time in Winnipeg. And I do really love it. There is something special about that climate and location.

BC: In terms of you guys working together, when was the first time you meet? Did you manage to get together in person somewhere or was it a Skype thing?

Llosa: No, we managed to get together. I went to New York to meet her, actually. I remember the first time we went to a coffee.

Connelly: Yeah, and we stayed for hours talking. I came out, I was like, "I love her so much. I really want to work with her."

Llosa: I couldn't believe it, it was so easy, just such a smart actor, and the way she understands the character, and not only the character, but the whole film itself and the complexity of it. I just felt, "Oh my God, this is ... " So, I knew. I knew that if she wanted to work with me, I could just imagine my luck.

BC: Claudia’s best known film The Milk of Sorrow, obviously, has sorrow in the title ... and in Aloft we've got personal tragedy as a pervasive theme as well. Yet, in person, you, Claudia, seem to have so much light. Given that dichotomy, in that director-actor relationship, did you have light conversations about heavy subjects, or did conversation get heavy quickly?

Connelly: Everyone's complicated, and I think that's what's beautiful about Claudia. The characters are all rich and complicated and morally ambiguous. I'll say working with Claudia, she's incredibly fluid and has a really great spirit on the set and is able to navigate the kind of changes and unanticipated occurrences really well.

And she has a beautiful glowing energy to her, but we all have our stories and complexities, so it's not surprising to me that she should write stories that explore lots of different things.

BC: If you had this power to heal and change and solve one of the world's problems or ailments, what would it be?

Connelly: Wow. Sustainability, being able to continue to live on this planet. The ultimate root of the problem ... I don't know ... is it greed? Is it selfishness? Is it not being able to hold other people's perspectives and points of view? I don't know how we got to this point but, certainly, the well-being of this planet.

Llosa: I agree, in a way. I was going to say corruption. If we could just be able to not succumb to corruption in any way, but in the end, it's kind of the same answer.