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CANNES 2024 Directors’ Fortnight

Review: The Falling Sky


- CANNES 2024: Eryk Rocha and Gabriela Carneiro da Cunha’s documentary focuses on the indigenous Yanomami people of the Amazon and their struggle to protect their home

Review: The Falling Sky

“Here I am, letting myself be filmed,” says an elder. “Are you really going to be our allies?” This question lingers over The Falling Sky by Brazilian writer-directors Eryk Rocha and Gabriela Carneiro da Cunha, a rich but meandering portrait of indigenous life and the protection of their home in the Watorikɨ community of the Brazilian Amazon, which has just premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes. With a focus on the Yanomami people, the film opens with a nearly eight-minute shot of a group of defenders of all ages slowly approaching the camera, carrying firearms, bows and resources, led by Yanomami shaman Davi Kopenawa, who also acts as a loose guide through the film. Rocha’s 2010 movie Pachamama also draws from a decolonial mindset, the title being a Quechua word and concept that disrupts the Western dualism between humans and nature.

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The Falling Sky claims inspiration from a book of the same name by Kopenawa and cultural anthropologist Bruce Albert, while the film is also Kopenawa’s third writing credit for cinematic works about the Yanomami people. The filmmakers stitch together an observational collage of monologues, everyday activities and two-way radio conversations that illustrate, in brief, a slice of the Yanomami world and their connections to the ecosystem without overexplaining for a broader audience. In particular, the sound design by Guile Martins – an immersive soundscape of singing, the sounds of nature, and the buzz and chatter of the radios – brings together what can be seen (and heard) as a true mosaic of contemporary life in the Watorikɨ community.

Refraining from any heavy-handed editing or censorship of opinions or conversations, the directors allow indigenous thinking to stand for itself, also while intercut with shots of the night sky and natural landscapes. Ongoing debates continue throughout the film between individuals who wish to directly attack the intruders and those who know the possible ramifications of doing so, accompanied by the direct disavowal of imitating the napë, or white people. The possibility of deadly epidemics brought by outsiders further hangs over the interconnected Amazonian communities.

Beginning with a description of the shamanistic practice of sniffing yãkoana to allow them to see spirits through sensory experiences other than eyesight, viewers are granted a glimpse into indigenous life, which is threatened daily by the intrusion of miners into the region. This glimpse, however, can be estranging – and it’s up to viewers to determine how much they allow themselves to be swept into the discomfort of unfamiliarity, the tables turned such that they are now the foreigners.

At times, the film’s length hinders it from allowing a viewer to accept such discomfort, a balance to be treaded carefully with pictures that opt to part from an easily digestible approach. Along with the question of whether the filmmakers are actually indigenous allies – or whether they simply see themselves as such – The Falling Sky must contend with the fact that audiences may find themselves too distanced from a portrayal of indigenous life that boldly refuses to translate, conceptually and cross-culturally. Instead, we are witness to rituals, chants, and even motivations that we will never understand, no matter how regularly a word-for-word interpretation is provided. It thus becomes a double-edged sword: an admirable impulse to champion indigenous voices while being anti-Eurocentric, challenged by the struggle to be heard at all.

The Falling Sky is a Brazilian-Italian-French production between Aruac Filmes, Stemal Entertainment, RAI Cinema and Les Films d’Ici. Its foreign sales are managed by Rediance.

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