Stars: Ennio Fantastichini, Francesca Cuttica, Juliet Esey Joseph and Li Yong.
Writers/Directors: Antonio & Marco Manetti.
Running time: 80 mins. (Screening at Fantaspora 2012, May 4-20)
The Manetti Brother’s sci-fi drama The Arrival of Wang walks a razor’s edge in it politicizing of an alien visitor’s intent. Our latest interstellar refugee has learnt to speak Mandarin by observing the most populated region of our planet; he is nicknamed ‘Wang’ by the racially-insensitive government official assigned his case; his goal just may (or may not) be global domination. The writing/directing team do just enough to keep the inherent xenophobic symbolism in check...but only just.
Reading the film’s publicity material, one could be forgiven for assuming that the ultimate effect of this deceptively nihilistic tale is one of tolerance, of the benefits of striving to understand and accept those who look, sound and act differently. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, haters may hold The Arrival of Wang up as some sort of banner for isolationist, nationalistic fervour.
Which I’m certain is not the intent of The Brothers Manetti, who favour crisp, smart dialogue and a joyous toying with B-movie tropes over in-your-face metaphoring. Their slow-burn story tells of everywoman Gaia (Francesca Cuttica), an expert Chinese-Italian interpreter, who is blind-folded and taken to a secret location to act as the vocal bridge in a word-off between G-man Curti (Ennio Fantastichini) and Earth’s newest arrival, the aforementioned Wang (the voice of Li Yong). Gaia, at first terrified of Wang’s appearance, is soon won over by his smooth-talking, ‘humanistic’ messages of peaceful co-existence, despite Curti’s increasingly desperate contrary opinion of the little guy.
The last time an Italian constructed an outer-space visitor, it was Carlo Rambaldi, whose E.T. proved a far less morally-ambiguous traveller. The Manetti’s Wang initially inspires giggles, so octopus-sy is his appearance, but come the chilling Act 3 reveal, his facade is entirely believable. The largely single-room setting would lend itself terrifically to a live theatre work, though pulling off a believable Wang onstage (?) may prove insurmountable.
Like a lot of smart, solidly-made sci-fi movies, the B-movie premise of The Arrival of Wang is merely a vessel via which a deeper, darker and, in this case, entirely debate-worthy message is delivered. I hope this finds audience acceptance outside of its genre followers; The Arrival of Wang is a low-key but compelling and unique work.
(Thanks to Dr Dean Bertram and the organising committee of the 2012 Fantastic Planet Film Festival for the preview disc; The Arrival of Wang had its Australian premiere at Fantastic Planet in March of this year)