Friday, May 25, 2012

SIFF ’12: The Last Man on Earth

It turns out there really are little grey aliens out there.  The X-Files had them perfectly pegged physically, but the rest of their nature has yet to be determined.  They are coming though.  A motley assortment of Italians await their anticipated arrival during the planet’s final pre-contact days in Gian Alfonso Pacinotti’s deceptively spoilerishly titled The Last Man on Earth (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival.

Luca Bertacci is a miserable man leading a depressing life.  The anti-social bingo parlor waiter has issues with women, but he is not too fond of men either.  Perhaps logically, his only friend (strictly platonic) is a transvestite prostitute.  Still, there are understandable reasons for his emotional deep freeze.  Despite his long nurtured resentments, he finds himself pining for Anna Luini, a pretty neighbor across the street.

Unlike the rest of the world, Bertacci tries not to think about the aliens, so he is rather surprised to find his elderly father cohabitating with an early arriver.  It seems to be a chaste relationship, but her presence invigorates the old man.  Bertacci even starts talking to Luini.  It isn’t pretty, but it is a beginning.  Unfortunately, mistakes in their private lives might have rather cosmic implications as first contact approaches.

Bertacci is hardly a typical sci-fi action protagonist.  Rather than I Am Legend, think of him more like the guy in the “if you were the last man on Earth” expression.  Still, the aliens really are coming, which serves as an amusing Rorschach for various characters’ neuroses.  During the opening credits, one radio talk show caller even expresses concern for the impact on small market football teams.  In a way, Last is like two (or perhaps one and a half) decidedly oddball love stories, connected by unrestrained existential dread.

Hardly kid-friendly space opera, Last lurches into some pretty ominous places, but Gabriele Spinelli solidly anchors it all as Bertacci.  While sympathetic, there is clearly something off about the waiter that is never fixed with a neat psychological contrivance.  Frankly, it is pretty engrossing just watching the dysfunctional gears turning in his head.  Though she only has one really heavy scene, Anna Bellato is a dynamic presence as her namesake, while the makeup obscured Sara Rosa Losilla’s weirdly awkward body language perfectly suits the alien.

A distinctive work of cerebral social science fiction, Last would make a good double feature with Nacho Vigalondo’s Extraterrestrial, which also screens at SIFF this year.  Of course, Pacinotti’s film would definitely be the darker half.  Yet, the comic artist (a.k.a. Gipi) turned director never allows the angst to overwhelm the story.  Recommended for discerning genre fans, Last Man on Earth screens today (5/25), Monday (5/28), and Thursday (5/31) during SIFF.