Sitges 2011: EXTRATERRESTRIAL Review
Julio wakes up in a bed with a hangover and no idea where he is or how he got there. It is the apartment of Julia, whom he doesn't remember. She doesn't remember him either, nor does she recall the night before. They might have slept together. He tries to leave, only they discover that the normally busy streets of Madrid are empty. Because a spaceship is hovering over the city and almost everyone else has fled.
Thus begins Nacho Vigalondo's second feature film Extraterrestrial, a sci-fi-romantic-comedy. A strange combination perhaps, but Vigalondo is examining questions of how we behave when we have little information, and rather than panic under possibly dire circumstances, concentrate on seemingly trivial matters. Knowledge is a precarious thing, and the characters operate on very little; more than that, they make little effort to expand their knowledge. As Julio and Julia try to assess the situation, they are joined by Angel, the definition of the creepy, nosy neighbor, and Carlos, Julia´s formidable but oblivious boyfriend. Each focuses in on one obsession to the neglect of all else, leaving them trapped in an odd soap opera. With a spaceship.
As a reflection of a contemporary society where nothing is real unless it is seen on television, Julio and Julia watch the spaceship on the screen rather than look out the window; indeed, Julio seems more comfortable watching Julia in the same way, as though his lack of knowledge of her is more translatable through a screen than her real presence. And even as a splinter group attempts to broadcast about the situation, they end up arguing about cue sheets and never actually telling their potential audience any real information. Julia's boyfriend Carlos cannot even see the plain evidence of her affair with Julio right before his eyes, and Julio attempts to deftly tap-dance in order to protect Julia. Even with all the pieces of the puzzle available, Vigalondo seems to be commenting that we are too lazy or too obsessive to put these pieces together.
Vigalondo is a master of comedic mystery - not the whodunit kind, but why people behave in uncommunicative and seemingly atypical ways in order to achieve their goals. In a more narratively traditional film, the main character would be the great hero, Carlos, ready to risk life and limb to save his lady and the world. Instead, it becomes a subtle and highly amusing comedy of errors, with Julio as the hero. He is very much the typical Spanish poor hero: not necessarily very smart, or handsome, or resourceful, but somehow able to work his way around the little lies to carve this meandering and scenic route for the audience. And taking untrodden and illogical, if not dangerous paths, Julio battles the possibility of alien takeover, an oblivious boyfriend and an overenthusiastic neighbour to win Julia's heart.