'The Color Out of Space' ('El color que cayó del cielo'): Vienna Review
Sergio Wolf's documentary on meteor hunters in Argentina doubles up as a reflection on foreign plundering of Latin American resources
Sergio Wolf's latest documentary shares the same title and subject as H.P. Lovecraft's 1927 short story about the fallout of a crashed meteor. But whereas the late U.S. writer's piece is more about broaching something beyond human history, the Argentinean director's film deploys myths and outer-space matter to expose the very familiar yet never-ending cycle of Western adventurers plundering resources belonging to populations in the margins.
Slowly and patiently relaying the transforming attitudes of men searching for a long sought-after meteorite in a remote Argentinean town, Wolf's The Color Out of Space — which finally made its first bow outside Latin America with its European premiere at the Vienna International Film Festival — is a humane, humorous and eventually heartrending piece about gods, geeks and greed, and deserving of more mortal attention on the festival circuit.
The Holy Grail at the center of Color is Campo del Cielo, a group of meteorites believed to have plummeted to the northeastern corner of modern-day Argentina more than 4,000 years ago. The indigenous population treats the stones with awe and reverence, with the native Moqoit people seeing the iron mass as part of their own heritage, as the traditional storytelling of yesteryear — such as tales about god-like warriors fighting against "rains of fire" — given a new treatment in modern media in the shape of locally made films, such as Juan Carlos Martinez's La Nación Oculta.
Mirroring the voyages and conquests from a more distant age, the white men soon arrived. Discounting the late 19th-century mercenaries who came and went with their hopes of gold mines quickly quashed, the first batch of foreigners arriving in the 20th century are somewhat more benign figures. Their surnames might carry the ring of characters from a western, but Bill Cassidy and Ted Bunch are Pittsburgh-based geologists harboring more academic motives in their 1960s pursuit of information about the fallen stones, their close collaborations with the native population shown by how the scientists name fragments of the meteorites after locals who helped them.
The real cowboy of the story is Robert Haag, a larger-than-life Tucson man whose Gekko-like entrepreneurial spirit and haircut reveal a man who hasn't really left the 1980s. Haag is unabashed in talking up his career of removing meteorites from their landing sites from all around the world and then hawking them off to collectors for huge sums of money. Wolf manages to capture the self-styled entrepreneur's unbelievable showmanship, a charisma only made queasy when one reflects on his unapologetic view of the everything in the world as up for grabs in a free-for-all — a worldview which eventually led to the planning of a heist-like operation which would have made Haag an even richer man.
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In his role as interrogator and director, Wolf remains steadfastly non-judgmental; he is poised and poetic enough to let his material and subjects speak for (or make a fool of) themselves. Meanwhile, his ability to establish rapport with his interviewees is outstanding, to the point of nudging Haag to do something which would actually provide solid evidence of his wrongdoing for that heist-like operation from 24 years ago.
All this is made engaging throughout by Alejandro Carillo Penovi's editing, while Gabriel Chwojnik's score highlights the out-of-this world nature of the story — electronic pulses soundtracking images of those lunar-like terrain, say, or warmer tones to go with scenes of lives of the local folk — and also the melancholy of a quiet land stirred up by all this bungling and burgling, some small chaos out of sight symbolizing bigger problems at hand.
Venue: Vienna International Film Festival
Production companies: K&S Films
Director: Sergio Wolf
Screenwriters: Sergio Wolf, Jorge Goldenburg, Alejandro Carillo Penovi
Producers: Sergio Wolf
Executive producer: Gabriel Kameniecki
Director of photography: Fernando Lockett, Guido De Paula
Editor: Alejandro Carrillo Penovi
Music: Gabriel Chwojnik
International Sales: K&S Films
No rating; 75 minutes