Saturday, December 3, 2011

EXTRATERRESTRIAL: Nacho Vigalondo's loony, loving sci-fi surprise opens SCN

Think there's not much new in the "space invaders" genre? Think again. Nacho Vigalondo, the young Spanish filmmaker who a few years back brought us the mini-budget but maxi-creative sci-fi thriller TimeCrimes, is back this year with Spanish Cinema Now's opening night selection. This is a wonderfully goofy, funny and inventive movie that takes a very real and imposing invasion from space and turns it into a kind of McGuffin, a red herring that allows this clever and ironic writer/director to explore once again, Spanish style, those eternal verities of sex, love, honor and commitment while making us gasp and laugh, wonder and chuckle. One neat feat of moviemaking is EXTRATERRESTRIAL!

Señor Vigalondo, shown at left, is a man who makes the most of his resources. And while the budget here is a lot bigger than it was for TimeCrimes, it's still small potatoes by most movie-making standards. And yet the filmmaker creates a truly marvelous world in which invaders land (or at least hover), the populace is evacuated (except, of course, for the few characters who plays into the scenario) and... action ensures. Yet that action becomes more and more about everyday occurrences -- jealousy, envy, what's-for-dinner -- rather than the usual "escape-the-aliens" routine. It takes, I would suggest, immense balls to even try something like this -- let alone bring it off as well as does Vigalondo.

How the filmmaker interests us in this, rather than in what we expect to be interested in, is what makes the movie such a little treasure. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this is the first such topsy-turvy film in the invaders-from-outer-space genre, and as such, as well entertaining the hell out of audiences receptive to something different, is going to be remembered in times to come. For Vigalondo's use of tennis balls alone, the movie is memorable.

Vigalondo has cast his little "game" with a more-than-game cast, and everyone delivers the goods. In the lead role of our just-a-guy hero, Julián Villagrán (two photos up and below) is terrific -- going through change after change, trying to adapt to the invasion of his planet and then of his heart, as he grows closer to the young lady whom he has recently screwed but knows almost nothing about. Played by Michelle Jenner (above) -- quite the little performer who also stars in this year's SCN movie Don't Be Afraid -- this crackerjack actress is practically unrecognizable visually and emotionally from one role to the other.

The film's remaining three characters (small cast!) are handled by Miguel Noguera (as a TV newscaster with a lot of problems), Raúl Cimas (above, with firearm) as Jenner's boyfriend, and especially Carlos Areces (so amazing in last year's SCN hit The Last Circus) as Jenner's next-door-neighbor, the ironically named Ángel. Among his many skills is Vigalondo's ability to subtly foreshadow and then build on it. I won't say anymore -- except that the film's final conversation is delightful: a kind of message about how to live, to perform and maybe even to make movies. And the last shot is simply glorious: a beautiful, low-key, deadpan hoot-and-a-half.

Extraterrestrial will screen twice only during SCN: Friday, Dec. 9 @ 6:15 pm and again Thursday, Dec, 15 @ 9:00 pm. But (he says, with hope in his heart), surely some smart/art distributor will take a chance on this one and give us a larger, longer chance to catch it.

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