Sky Turns, The: Mercedes Álvarez’s Evocative Meditation on Time, Memory and Mortality

Mercedes Álvarez’s “The Sky Turns” is an evocative meditation on time, memory and mortality.

In its good moments, the film reaches levels of lyricism seldom seen in cinema anymore. The Sky Turns has been winning awards in film festivals (Rotterdam, Buenos Aires), and it’s easy to see why: It’s almost impossible to compare this original film to other works.

“The Sky Turns” tells the story of Alvarez, who after 35 years returns to her native village, Aldealseñor, in a remote region of northwest Spain. She was the last child born in a place that now has only 14 inhabitants, all old.  They represent the final generation of inhabitants after more than 1,000 years of uninterrupted country life. Soon they will join the other ghosts that haunt these ancient hills, ghosts of dinosaurs, Romans, Moors, and Fascists.

Though her film is personal, Álvarez focuses her attention on the dwindling yet tenacious villagers. The passing years have made them natural philosophers, historians, and comedians, who muse on the transience of things.  They regard the folly of conquerors from Caesar to Bush, and make their idiosyncratic but relevant observations with stoic grace and uniquely Spanish humor.

Álvarez’s stand-in within the film is her friend Pello Azketa, a painter whose encroaching blindness mirrors the theme of dimming memory. Azketa’s nebulous landscapes offer a key to the region’s austere beauty, its stony heights dotted with lonely, wind-stunted trees that squat beneath a towering sky.

Quite impressively, Álvarez offers a highly subjective gaze that opens up a vast domain, dissolving the personal into the universal, the fleeting into the timeless, and isolation into a connectedness that reaches high into the heavens and deep into the past.