A kaleidoscopic trip through one man’s life, “I Could Read the Sky” is an eerily effective film–astonishingly detailed and textured and, quite literally, cinematic poetry. This is such an art film that it’ll appeal to a very small audience–it’s far too dull and introspective for today’s so-called “sophisticated” moviegoers! But its sheer artistry is also what makes it worth seeing.
At the center is an old man in London (Healy), swirling in his fading memories, from his childhood in Ireland to the day he crossed over to England to find work, through his romances, friendships and family relationships. And most importantly, through his work … through the things he could (and couldn’t) do. Key figures include his cousin PJ (Rea), wife Maggie (Kennedy), best pal Francie (Coyle), mother (Burke) and brother Joe (Liam O’Maonlai).
This is all woven together like a moving painting; it’s rare that there aren’t at least two images overlapping on the screen, often a memory laid over the man’s present. And to achieve the texture, director-writer Bruce uses dissolves, morphs, creative transitions, varying colour depth, film and video, repeating imagery and a delicate sound mix. There are some very moving and quite disturbing sequences, most notably as he remembers a lost brother and an unsettling grave-digging incident. The overall effect is hypnotic, putting us in the old man’s shoes as he picks his life apart. But it’s also rather alienating as well. We never see him interacting (it’s always either subjective camera work or an overlapping image of the old man where his younger self would be), so we can never quite identify with him personally. And the repetitiveness is extremely wearing–after about 10 minutes we start thinking the whole film can’t be like this! But it is. And in many ways it’s lovely and fascinating and surprisingly poignant. Even if it never really touches us.