Part charming rural drama and part earnest eco-harangue, “Ashes From the Sky” weaves its two strands into a quietly satisfying whole. A well-turned script that focuses on one of the key political issues of our time injects pic’s basically traditional virtues with a shot of contempo urgency, while a memorable central perf by Celso Bugallo brings the loner-vs.-the-system plotline to vivid life. Fests have already recognized pic’s merits, with more to follow, though business at home has been slow since early November release.
The camper van of hippie-ish travel journo, Scot Pol Ferguson (Gary Piquer), breaks down in a town in Asturias, northern Spain, which lies in the shadow of a huge power station. Forced to stay in town while repairs are carried out, Pol falls in with local farmer Federico (Bugallo), who tells Pol how pollution generated by the plant is affecting local crops and livestock. Federico believes this is also the reason his nephew, Mario (Fran Sariego), is unable to have children.
Federico clings to the belief that the Kyoto Protocol will solve the problem, and checks the papers each morning to see whether the station has been closed down. But he’s up against local interests — the station is the area’s main source of work. Late on, the script reveals Federico’s obsession is driven by more than just ecological concerns.
Pol has a fleeting relationship with a local single mom, Cristina (Clara Segura, lively), but a couple other plotlines, inserted to buoy the eco-theme, come across as merely preachy. That said, pic does rep an entirely convincing portrait of the dynamics of life in rural Spain, where the personal and the political are always closely interwoven.
Wisely, Bugallo doesn’t milk Federico for the pathos implicit in his doomed project, simply playing him as the tough, single-minded old bird he is. Piquer is solid enough as the foreigner abroad, attracted to and sometimes confounded by local ways.
Apart from milking the beauty of the area to the full, pic’s visuals have a strong sense of the iconic — as when the enraged Federico pushes a wheelbarrow full of diseased fruit along a highway as he heads to city hall to complain again. Score is pretty, lilting, Celtic fare inspired by the region’s musical heritage. Brief snatches of Asturian dialect pepper the dialogue, without subtitles on print caught.