The Arrival of Wang (L’arrivo di Wang)

Italy (2011) Dir. Antonio Manetti & Marco Manetti

Young translator Gaia (Francesca Cuttica), who specialises in Mandarin Chinese, receives a call for a special job at short notice for which she will be nicely rewarded. She is met by a man named Curti (Ennio Fantastichini) who promptly blindfolds her so she is unable to see the secret location she is taken to. Upon arrival Gaia is taken to a darkened room where she is asked to translate for a Mr. Wang (Li Yong). After a while Gaia finds working in the dark difficult and stressful so she asks for the lights to be turned on. Curti reluctantly agrees warning Gaia that Mr. Wang might not be she is expecting – which proves to be something of an understatement.

Horror loving brother team of Antonio and Marco Manetti, who wowed everyone at Frightfest this year with their latest offering Paura 3D,  bring us this short (82 minutes) but delightfully engaging intelligent sci-fi tale that offers a slightly different twist on the genre. This low budget but impressive looking outing is one of those that proves frustrating for us reviewers as it has a plot that is difficult to summarise without giving too much away or giving readers who have not seen this film enough information to figure out how it ends. But I’ll try.

One look at the poster and you’ll already see that Mr. Wang is in fact not of this Earth. The reason for his name and the need for Gaia’s Mandarin speaking skills is because our intergalactic visitor did his homework and learned that the most spoken language on Earth, thus they assumed it would be the best language to communicate with which to with us Earthlings. Unfortunately landing in Rome and hearing Italian was an eye opener for Mr. Wang, as was being clocked round the head with a baseball bat by Mrs. Amunike (Juliet Esey Joseph) when he broke into her home. Equally unfortunate is that Curti doesn’t believe Wang is a peaceful visitor, his quick to anger style of questioning not sitting too well with the level headed and kind hearted Gaia.

The bulk of the film takes place in the interview room but don’t be put off by that; the script is sharply written and the dialogue has a snap to it with each character having a unique voice: Curti with his hot headed intransigence, Gaia and her passive aggressive sympathy and Wang with his calm pleading for understanding. The interplay between the three is the heart and soul of the story and determines the direction of the story as much as it does the audience’s emotional investment. The skill of the Manetti Brothers’ is that we are constantly waiting for the rug to be pulled from underneath our feet but they manage to keep us distracted by the action that when it happens it hits us like a slap in the face with a wet fish.

Serving as the conceit of this film is the truth of Wang’s story. Curti refuses to believe anything Wang has to say, and we see his version of the events unfold then we see it from Wang’s less dramatic and more benevolent perspective. Both are viable and believable but who is telling then truth? Gaia is our conduit for this dilemma and in her hands we effectively put the munificent side of humankind. Like us she doesn’t know what is going on and is making her mind up based on what she sees before her and it is not a stretch to side with Wang after the witnessing Curti’s explosive bludgeoning style of non-flexible questioning. There are two sides to every story but sometimes, their just may be a third. We are kept guessing up until the end and nothing is giving away to sway us on either side which is a sign of brilliant scripting.

This may not have the budget of Hollywood sci-fi extravaganzas but the truth is it doesn’t need it. Wang himself may look cheap compared to the CGI creations but this makes him more credible and tangible especially with the physical interactions. Wang possesses subtle facial expressions that make him more human than the humans are! Elsewhere the CGI effects for the flashback scenes are very impressive, but by the final act the financial strains seems to show but not enough to spoil one’s enjoyment of the film.

Of the human cast this is essentially a two person show, the onus of carrying the film being largely on the young shoulders of Francesca Cuttica. Before our eyes we see a perky, industrious young woman grow into a determined defender of intergalactic relations and the moral compass of this tale. In a genre that often encourages over-acting, Cuttica keeps her performance levelled and in tune with the mood of the scene. Almost contradictory to that is Ennio Fantastichini as Curti, whose initial friendly demeanour quickly evaporates when he doesn’t get the answers he wants to hear from Wang. It takes skill to be nasty and believable at the same time and this is what we get from Fantastichni.

The Arrival of Wang is one of those wonderful secrets one uncovers when they are least expecting it, posing the question why it has remained unknown. It won’t be the greatest sci-fi film you’ve seen but it will rank among the more intelligent, thought provoking and emotionally effective ones you’ve seen. It feels lazy to describe this as a cynical version of E.T but this is as accurate a summary as one can get without saying too much. Seek this out if you can – you will be rewarded with a pleasant surprise.