Sky fails to back up its claims with anything of substance.
In her new feature, co-writer-director Fabienne Berthaud attempts to portray personal reinvention in the face of turmoil, a novel gaze upon the mid-life crisis. This endeavor is largely a failed one. Sky is plagued by nonsensical narrative twists, a lack of charisma and pathos in key performances, a reduction to contrived melodrama in the final act and overzealous editing.
Sky tells the story of Romy (Diane Kruger), a French tourist on holiday to the U.S. West with her husband Richard (Gilles Lellouche). Their relationship is clearly in turmoil and Richard continues to escalate the tension. After a drunken display, he attacks his wife, who defends herself and flees in despair. Throughout the rest of the film, she struggles for self-reinvention as an unmarried woman. Her confidence and independence wax and wane, she hitchhikes, moves into a shared room in Las Vegas and hooks up with a casino carouser, Diego (Norman Reedus). Diego strikes a nerve in Romy and she follows him to his home in the southern California desert. There, she meets his trailer-park sister-in-law Billie (Lena Dunham, in a ridiculous and offensive role), finds a job at a diner and achieves both personal triumph and tragedy.
The film’s biggest issues are related to Romy. Her journey through the desert lacks any narrative sense. The poorly-constructed plot is exacerbated by the way the lead character is portrayed. She comes across as flat and inconsistent. Berthaud is seemingly going for a profound inconstancy and emotional brokenness, but neither Kruger’s performance nor the script allows for this. Romy is at times vulnerable and vacant and at others assertive and in control. Berthaud did not give Kruger the guidance to know what she is supposed to be playing. At the beginning of Sky, Romy is artfully taking photos, suggesting some mystical sensibility or love of nature. But aside from a half-baked encounter with a Native American co-worker’s grandmother, the film never returns to this version of Romy. She is not the creative wanderer in the wilderness; rather, she is imminently practical and painfully myopic. Her driftlessness seems intended as an important statement on twenty-first century living, but the execution is off and it suggests instead poor filmmaking.
Romy’s inconsistency is mirrored in other aspects of the film. Sky starts as a road movie, drifts into noir territory and at times looks and feels like the collision of arthouse and grindhouse of ‘70s Hollywood. For fleeting moments, the atmosphere is outright Lynchian. Nathalie Durand’s cinematography during these moments is breathtaking, capturing desert vistas, driving sequences and Vegas neon in captivating and evocative ways. Unfortunately, the film eventually abandons these atmospheric moments and becomes a family/relationship melodrama in the worst possible sense. It exaggerates tired filmic tropes, displaces Durand’s photography for exposition and ignores gaping plot holes. Romy, for instance, is apparently immune to property and immigration laws. The climax arrives without explanation, is predictable and leads to a ludicrously unearned denouement.
For the sake of fairness, all of Sky’s shortcomings should not be placed on Berthaud. Auteur theory is tempting, but filmmaking is an act of collaboration and it seems that much of Sky was left in the cutting room. Surely Duane, a trucker played by Lou Diamond Phillips, originally had more than one line in the film. Many of the relationships Romy forms with subsidiary characters are under-explained or aborted, another probable product of intensive editorial intervention.
The film attempts to portray self-discovery, human relationships and the despair of unmoored feminine existence. These are some of the grandest ideas tackled in cinema, and conjure names as diverse as Cassavetes, Malick and (early) Fellini. Sky, however, fails to back up its claims with anything of substance. Romy is no woman under the influence, nor is she Cabiria’s heir, even if her story has definitive echoes of each.