Dir: Antonio Manetti. Marco Manetti. Italy. 2011 82mins
Though it plays like a slightly over-extended episode of The Outer Limits, this Italian-language science fiction film – deceptively small-scale until major special effects are unleashed in the finale – has cult potential and might attract development interest for an English-language remake. It has to get past its bland title, and a late satirical plot turn which trades in ironic reversal might prove offensive to politically correct sensibilities. As a joke, the film’s punchline works; as editorial, it’s harder to take.
The Manetti Bros, busy in genre cinema and pop video in Italy, have a savvy approach, saving their big guns for the finale.
Unfolding almost in real-time, the plot hook is that Gaia (Francesca Cuttica, very good), who works in Rome as a freelance translator, is offered an unusually large fee for a single evening’s work, assisting in the interrogation of Wang, who speaks only Mandarin Chinese. Blindfolded and taken to a secret location, Gaia is literally kept in the dark and haltingly establishes communication with the prisoner as overbearing official Curti (Ennio Fantastichini) applies hard interrogation techniques.
Insisting the lights be turned on for the rest of the session, Gaia discovers that Wang (Li Yong) is a squidlike alien who claims to have come in peace – and rather naively has learned only the most common language on Earth to communicate with the planet’s people.
Curti assumes Wang is a War of the Worlds-style invader, and applies War on Terror tactics – including torture – to get it to reveal its true purpose, and explain what a mystery alien gadget does. Gaia suspects Wang is an E.T.-like innocent, doomed to be martyred by unthinking humanity, and plots to bring the case to the attention of Amnesty International even as Curti insists aliens don’t have human rights.
Taking place mostly in the concrete interrogation room, with the blank-faced alien strapped to a chair by its tentacles and the contrasting humans holding to their positions as the backstory – involving Wang’s refuge in the basement flat of a practical African immigrant (Juliet Esey Joseph) and a two missing weeks in his story – is drawn out.
The performances are impressive, even if the boiling paranoid conservative man and the calm sympathetic liberal woman are constructed basically as opposing positions rather than characters. It’s a situation in which only two outcomes are conceivable and the movie see-saws between them, though a certain stridency – and a significant speech from the sensible fourth character – tips the hand well before the spectacular finish.
The Manetti Bros, busy in genre cinema and pop video in Italy, have a savvy approach, saving their big guns for the finale – though the creation of the character of Wang betokens extensive use of special effects even as the drama is confined to a single-set bunker.
Production companies: Manetti Bros Film
International sales: Iris Film Distribution, www.irisfilm.it
Producers: Antonio Manetti, Marco Manetti
Executive producers: Laura Contarino
Screenplay: Antonio Manetti, Marco Manetti
Cinematography: Alessandro Chiodo
Editor: Federico Maneschi
Production designer: Noemi Marchica
Music: Aldo De Scalzi, Pivio
Main cast: Ennio Fantastichini, Francesca Cuttica, Li Yong, Juliet Esey Joseph