Though a giant UFO hovers over most of the action in Nacho Vigalondo's new film Extraterrestrial, the Spanish director, who first made a name for himself with the twisted time travel thriller Timecrimes in 2007, admits he has little interest in flying saucers. "I'm not interested in UFOlogy," he says via his cellphone from Madrid.
Vigalondo does, however, qualify his comment with an interest in the mystery the UFO connotes as a symbol. He says the idea that beings from the outer limits of the galaxy would drop by Earth, hang out for a minute in their flying saucer, take a peek, and leave fascinates him. "I wanted to play with that icon in the film," he says.
Vigalondo takes the UFO and turns it into one huge MacGuffin in Extraterrestrial.
While most everyone has fled the giant city of Madrid after the
appearance of a UFO that does not seem to want to leave, some stragglers
have stayed behind. Vigalondo focuses on a couple, Julia (Michelle
Jenner) and Julio (Julián Villagrán). They meet after having a one-night
stand. They wake in Julia's apartment with no memory of the night
before and find the city abandoned, with a huge flying saucer overhead.
Soon, Ángel (Carlos Areces), a neighbor who seems creepily obsessed with
Julia, checks in on her. Next, Julia's ex-boyfriend Carlos (Raúl Cimas)
appears, also concerned over Julia. As all try to deal with their array
of feelings while under the shadow of the saucer, paranoia ensues.
"I wanted to put a big UFO in the background and see how that presence changed the rules of a screwball comedy," Vigalondo explains, "so it's about what happens if we are in a Billy Wilder film, for instance, but you see a UFO in the background, and that changes the rules of the interactions between all the characters."
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To anyone who has seen Timecrimes, this interest in characters for the director should come as no surprise. "I try to work the characters as much as I can," he says. "For example, in both films, I love the characters to be guilty. I love the characters to play the good guy and the bad guy at the same time, but not in order to judge the characters. I do not want to punish the characters. I prefer the characters face themselves in my movies. That is much more meaningful to me."
Vigalondo says the world of science fiction allows him special situations to explore human qualities to extreme limits. He has a special view of what many consider a genre with a limited audience. "Most of the time people refer to science fiction as a genre," he says, "but science fiction is not a genre. It's a continent where you can build any kind of genre. So Alien is a horror film. Star Wars is an adventure film, and Blade Runner is a noir film, so you can play with any genre into the links of science fiction. The thing about science fiction, instead of the rules of a specific genre, it simply gives you many more ideas to take any genre to the limit."
Nacho Vigalondo will be present to introduce his new comedy Extraterrestrial (Extraterrestre) and participate in a Q&A during a special advance screening as part of Miami International Film Festival's upcoming 30th anniversary season of activities, Saturday, June 9, at 6:45 p.m., at MDC's Tower Theater. Tickets cost $12. The film will also be available nationwide via Video On Demand and iTunes on June 15.