Originally published Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 4:26 PM

Movie review

'The Sky Turns': capturing the essence of impermanence

"The Sky Turns": Mercedes Alvarez's plotless, poetic movie about a Spanish filmmaker returning to the almost deserted village she left at the end of the 1960s

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'The Sky Turns,' with Pello Azketa, Hicham Chate. Directed by Mercedes Alvarez, from a script by Alvarez and Arturo Redin. 110 minutes. In Spanish, with English subtitles. No rating; includes moderate amount of profanity. Northwest Film Forum.

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This plotless, poetic 2005 Spanish film creates such a timeless quality that it's a shock to hear its characters suddenly discussing Bush, Blair, Baghdad and weapons of mass destruction.

For most of the film, they're either projecting into the future (a luxury tourist hotel seems to be in the works) or trying to come to terms with a wildly varied past. ("The Sky Turns" was shot between autumn 2002 and June 2003.)

In Aldealsenor, a northern village where she was born, filmmaker Mercedes Alvarez and her companions visit Moorish and Roman ruins and rediscover the footprints of giants that once walked the Earth ("Tree of Life" isn't the only dreamy dinosaur movie this summer).

They speculate on what science can and cannot prove. One claims that "we are not alone in the universe." Another insists that the brontosaurus came "before the flood." An almost-blind painter talks about the relativity of colors.

Snow takes them by surprise. So does an earth-moving machine, and a hefty bell that's difficult to swing in rhythm.

Alvarez eventually finds herself in a unique position. She was the last child born in Aldealsenor, which has shrunk impressively since she and her parents abandoned it in the late 1960s. Before the family left, when she was 3, it was "the whole world" to her.

Visiting a cemetery and other prompters of memory, Alvarez now sees the place with different eyes. Aldealsenor has become so small (population 14 and not exactly counting) that the need for a postal service is questionable.

Only Alvarez and a few other citizens can register the full impact of the landscape's shifting shape, but "The Sky Turns" rarely feels forbidding to an outsider. Without relying on melodrama or nostalgia, Alvarez embraces the inescapable nature of impermanence.

John Hartl:

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