This dreamlike doc might lack punch, but it's an effective study of the self-inflicted hopelessness of the 21st century world
Filmmaker Alvaro F. Pulpeiro takes aim at the myriad failings of the Venezuelan state is his stylistically ambitious but very meandering documentary So Foul a Sky. What looks initially to be a film about the South American country’s poisonous oil dependence, opening on ominously lingering shots of refineries, soon starts to take on the country’s disastrous economy and hyper-inflation, its border relations with Brazil, its military structures, and the contentious 2018 election between Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido. It’s an impressive scope, giving us a look into the various hearts of a struggling and largely pessimistic nation, even if a lack of drive and focus does hamper its impact.
Occasionally interjecting with his own consciously lyrical narration, Pulpeiro’s fundamental point is to examine the ways that Venezuela seems to be failing its own future. Its money is worthless, its people keen to leave, while its symbols of strength are either directly killing it (the oil) or impotent (Pulpeiro’s brief looks at the navy and army show groups of bored young men protecting no-one from nothing).
So Foul a Sky is an angry film and, at its best, displays that anger through dreamlike sound and camerawork, as if the whole country is trapped in a nightmare (the occasional bursts of radio conversation about million-percent inflation and Donald Trump help in this regard). These hard-hitting moments are relatively spaced out though, and there are extended segments – particularly one towards the end about a group of guys running an off-the-books gasoline business on the Colombian border – that do really just go through the motions.
Pulpeiro’s formal choices and the general undercurrent of apocalypse do stop these sequences from ever becoming outright boring, but they do sometimes come dangerously close to that line. Yet, maybe that’s the point – as we’ve all experienced through COVID and the climate crisis, the end of the world can feel quite dull and, as a study of humanity’s self-inflicted hopelessness, So Foul a Sky does a solid job of capturing that sensation.
So Foul a Sky is released on 29 July on True Story.Where to watch