Fantastic Fest: Rom-Com Extraterrestrial , Erotic Musical Underwater Love Charm with Lies and Turtle Sex
Four years after bringing his feature debut Timecrimes to Fantastic Fest (where it won the Best Picture award), Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo returned to Austin, a place so warm and familiar he liked it to returning to the womb. "It's like going back into my mother's vagina," exclaimed Vigalondo, addressing the friendly crowd at the debut of his sophomore film, Extraterrestrial. "So I get inside my mother's vagina, and for some reason you are all there inside!"
Extraterrestrial is a vastly different film than Vigalondo's time-travel thriller Timecrimes, but it's just as well matched to the Fantastic Fest spirit, a sweet little romantic comedy in the guise of an alien invasion movie. It begins one day as Julio (Julián Villagrán) wakes up the morning after a drunken one night stand with Julia (Michelle Jenner), a gorgeous but mysteriously aloof young lady who can't seem to wait for her hook-up to leave, already, until both realize the city outside is strangely quiet. While they've been asleep, alien ships have materialized in the skies and the population evacuated, leaving them alone with no internet, no cell service, and only each other to depend on.
That is, until Julia's awkward neighbor Ángel (Carlos Areces, star of last year's terrifically twisted Fantastic Fest entry The Last Circus) reveals he's stayed behind as well, not so secretly because he's desperately in love with Julia. And then Julia's boyfriend Carlos (Raúl Cimas) returns home for her, bearing tales of government quarantines, and leaving the foursome locked in an amusing mire of shifting relationships, shared lies, and increasingly paranoid fears that there might actually be a real alien among them.
Vigalondo lends a sharp sense of humor to the proceedings, and despite occasionally using clumsy fade outs to get from scene to scene, the film makes its way to a sweet, unconventionally romantic ending. It is, at its core, more character-driven romantic comedy than science fiction film, the ultimate realization of which may turn off those expecting the latter. But, as Vigalondo explained of his misleading alien element, "There is no reason. It's like The Birds. You like The Birds? It's a classic!"
Speaking of sweetly romantic but unconventional Fantastic Fest entries, just try to wrap your head around Shinji Imaoka's Underwater Love: It's a pink film, meaning it follows in the grand tradition of Japanese softcore erotic cinema, it's a musical featuring songs by German duo Stereo Total, and the story -- well, it involves a thirty-something woman named Asuka (Sawa Masaki) visited by a former classmate, Aoki (Yoshirô Umezawa), who died 17 years ago and came back to life as a dancing, cucumber-earing mythical turtle-like creature called a kappa. Then there's the chain-smoking, dress-wearing supernatural hippie, the death clock, the inter-species coupling, and the anal pearls. But more on those delights later.
Shot by renowned DP Christopher Doyle (whose love for the drink came up uncomfortably often in the film's intro and Q&A), Underwater Love is disappointingly unpretty to look at, thanks perhaps to a limited budget but probably more to a decision to pursue a washed-out visual look. Still, every now and then comes a breathtaking Doyle composition; the blue sky reflected in a stream, or fast-motion time lapse lingering on the solemn body of a naked woman in a river. But shot in about a week and with a cheeky acceptance of its limitations (Example: The "kappa" is an actor wearing a visibly fake turtle mask. Just go with it!), Underwater Love gets the basic job done, which is to bring a wonderfully perverse (in a good way) and playful love story to life.
The musical aspect, however, is a letdown, despite an opening number set in a factory that called to mind Bjork and Catherine Deneuve frolicking among machinery in Dancer in the Dark. Imaoka admitted he only included it because he was asked to by higher ups, and considering that the whole production completed filming within just eight days (a luxury by pink film standards, apparently), who can blame him for at least trying? If anything, the nonsensical lyrics and awkward choreography only lend more wild whimsy to the show.
Which brings me to the anal pearls. Rest assured this is the only film in history that will feature comically childlike turtle-people having sex with human women (the turtle penis fellatio scene is a LOL-worthy highlight) and pulling magical rocks out of their crotches which, if inserted into a human's anus, will avert death. And I guarantee you'll never see a case of necrophilia-as-CPR again on film -- at least, it couldn't possibly be as desperately romantic as it is here.