Sky is the worst film I saw at TIFF, a terrible waste of time that continued to infuriate me as it went along. A full plot synopsis and commentary will work best here to really analyze what’s wrong with this film.
The film starts with a sequence that screams “indie”, footage of a road trip in the American Southwest that looks like it’s been Instagrammed while a grating indie rock band plays on overtop. This should have been where I walked out, but I persevered, and indeed, the film does improve a bit when we are finally introduced to our lead, Romy (Diane Kruger) and her husband Richard (Gilles Lellouche). A French couple vacationing in California to try and revitalize their marriage, Richard’s inner anger is drawn our with a few beers at a small town bar, whose hotel they decide to spend the night in. This bar scene is where Romy’s infertility is revealed by a drunk Richard, as well as the beginning of a Native American motif around Romy, who looks on at a picture of a Native American on the wall.
Romy, frustrated at Richard’s drunken boorishness, politely and quietly excuses herself from the bar and returns to the hotel. Richard stumbles in a while later, drunk. In his stupor, her tries to caress Romy, to which she rebukes.
Then he tries to rape her. They fall to the floor and struggle. Romy grabs a lamp, and repeatedly hits his head with it until he stops. He stops moving completely. This is the most powerful scene. It is also where the movie begins to completely fall apart.
From their relatively wealthy status and demeanour, we can assume both Romy and Richard are at the very least French middle class, relatively well off and educated. And not once does this intelligent woman check Richard’s pulse. Instead what follows is fifteen minutes of Romy on the run, as it were, buying a cheap car and driving wherever she can, running from her “crime”. Of course, this sequence is pointless because she turns herself in, and is doubly pointless because she never killed Richard in the first place! Perhaps what is more infuriating than Romy never checking Richard for a pulse (or his breathing), but that she has the right of self-defence because he was trying to rape her. There was no reason for her to run, aside from her having a “scared” mentality. For a film that supposedly about the liberation of this character, it sure starts with her character at an unbelievable lack of intellect and plot contrivance.
Nevertheless, she meets Richard in the hospital, and tells him that its over. From here you’d think they’d go back to France and divorce, she collects her things, maybe talk with friends and family, but nope! She abandons everything and tries to make it in Vegas. From here she falls into a street performer who lets her work as a bunny girl. Romy works for a short time hustling for tourists to take picture with her and Elvis impersonators, but she isn’t very good at it, apparently (why?). As she leaves to change and turn in for the night, she meets Diego (Norman Reedus), who first mistakes her for a sex worker. Later they have sex anyway in Diego’s hotel, in what Romy (and by extension the audience) perceives as a mutual attraction, an act of passion. Of course, this is shattered when Romy wakes up, and finds money on the table. Diego didn’t care for her after all, he merely saw it as a transaction.
This scene should come with a sad reflection by Romy, but instead, she giggles with delight, a scene in the film that rings most hollow. Throughout the rest of the film, Romy has illusions about her relationship with Diego, who persists in asserting that she’s nothing to him, just a passer through. The next day she calls his hotel room, only to hear another woman in the background. It’s just another verification of Diego’s mantra: the only sex he has is with sex workers, because that’s the easiest in terms of emotions and transactions. Nevertheless, Diego invites Romy (animalizing and domesticating her, calling here “rabbit” through much of the film) to stay at his place should she happen to pass through. Being a woman with no funds, no American citizenship, no local friends or family, and no home, she takes up his offer.
From here we get into a repetitive cycle of Romy trying to establish roots, and Diego gruffly rebuking them. She gets a job at a local diner, and makes friends with her fellow waitress. It’s from here that the concepts of fertility and Romy’s associations with Native Americans increases. Diego’s family as a plethora of kids, with his relative Billie (Lena Dunham) joking that she’s perpetually pregnant. When Billie foolishly jumps on a trampoline while being pregnant, Romy forcefully tells her to stop, admonishing her for taking care of her gift of fertility. Of course, by the end of the film, Romy gets pregnant by Diego (the sex scenes in this film are passionless), but Diego dies of cancer.
While this occurs, Romy becomes friends her work friend’s mother and community, Native American themselves. These friends rename her Sky, because she is always “changing”, like the skies above. The film ends with Romy walking through the desert with her new daughter, illustrating her supposedly new freedom.
Romy, French by nationality, is associated with Native Americans through the film. She is occasionally seen next to images of Native Americans, such as when Diego first comes to his house when Romy is there. Romy also supposedly has a fondness of nature, enjoying the excursion to California much more than Richard and pointing out the landscape at the beginning of the film. These events (fondness and appreciation for nature, visual implications with Native Americans) are meant to associate Romy with Native Americans, and indeed the film confirms this when she is renamed “Sky” by the Native Americans of her small town. This act completely ignores the troubling implications of colonialist history. Romy, being French, comes from a nation with a heritage of colonialism in the new world. While French colonialists would intermarry with First Nations peoples in the settlements that became Canada, the implication that Romy is spiritually like the Native Americans is dangerously essentialist (Native Americans main distinction being merely their appreciation of nature).
The worst part of it the whole experience seeing this film? I could have seen The Iron Giant again instead. And that’s something I’ll never forgive.