It's perhaps not a coincidence that April Skies is French-Canadian director Pascal Payant's third film. Uniquely filmed all alone with no crew other than a sound person on set, April Skies was filmed in Paris, Iceland, and Sweden.
3 languages, 3 stories, 3 countries. All intertwined to the same tragedy.
In the opening moments of April Skies, it becomes apparent that we are to experience a film that is both remarkably beautiful and emotionally engaging. The three individuals who serve as the foundation of Payant's story telling are equally compelling.
Zoe (Pauline Nyrls) is a Parisian who has just been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis and given two years to live.
Liv (Sara Hagno) is a Swedish musical superstar whose grief over the loss of her manager is palpable, her loyal assistant (Linnea Pihl) on the receiving end of most of Liv's downward spiral.
And then there is Lara (Svandis Dora Einarsdottir), an Icelandic mother-to-be in the throes of grief whose encounters were, at least for me, the film's most gripping amidst the emotionally exhausting back-and-forth that grief so often offers.
Payant's influences will be evident throughout the 90-minute April Skies, though the fact that he pulled all of this off primarily himself is quite exceptional. April Skies is a beautiful film to behold, from opening drone shots across the film's three locales to the intimacy of one-to-one encounters that are equally beautiful and heartbreaking.
At times experimental and other times surprisingly straightforward, April Skies benefits, I'd say, from the simplicity of its sparse crew. As Zoe, Pauline Nyrls is confidently in-your-face, at times even breaking the fourth wall, with an approach to her illness and diagnosis that feels genuine and frustrating especially as she resists the efforts of a friend (Sophie Mousel) to cheer her up. While Zoe leans toward a more congenial expression of grief, Sara Hagno's Liv is more relentless and defiant and wounded. Hagno wears Liv's resignation in every space of her physical performance and it's a rather remarkable turn that lingers in my psyche. Linnea Phil is equally impressive as her loyal, pressing assistant whose arc over the course of the film is completely believable.
Svandis Dora Einarsdottir is riveting as Lara, her encounters with Kristopher (Gudmundur Thorvaldsson) somewhere between debate and poetry. Both are absolutely spot-on throughout.
As April Skies unfolds, there is, of course, a bridge that builds between these three seemingly disconnected lives. Payant builds all of this patiently and intelligently even if there are moments when predictability creeps in. It's still never less than compelling cinema.
Payant's beautiful vision comes powerfully to life in the hands of this capable and laser-focused ensemble bringing to life his words and his silences. April Skies is beautiful to watch and impossible to forget.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic